Can Marine LePen Change the Outcome this Time?
Five years ago, Marine LePen faced Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the Presidential elections. It was estimated that she would prevail over Macron because she had an extensive political experience compared to him, who was merely a novice in government affairs. She was cocky, felt intellectually superior to Macron, and believed that it was already a done deal. Yet, the outcome of the 2017 election favored Emmanuel Macron who became one of the youngest heads of state to ever govern the French Republic. This bitter defeat made Marine LePen reassessing her political strategy.
Between 2017 and 2022, Marine LePen dramatically changed many aspects of her political program. She was initially for a total withdrawal of France from NATO, the Euro currency, and the European Union. She was for a zero-tolerance immigration policy, a project that her father built his entire political career, and created the LePen brand on, and believed that Islam and the virtues of the French Republic were incompatible. She used to advocate for the complete sovereignty of France. During Macron’s term, she adopted a much softer approach to her policies. She began to be more nuanced in her approach. She claimed that France does not need to leave the European Union or NATO in order to ascertain its sovereignty. France can still be sovereign despite remaining in the Schengen space, according to the new approach of Marine LePen. In short, Marine LePen appears far more sympathetic in the eyes of the average in 2022 than in 2017.
One sure thing she successfully did, was to complete the “dédiabolisation” of the National Rally. In French, the word “dédiaboliser” means to “un-demonize” someone or something, which means to make one or something appear less threatening, less wicked, and less dangerous than it previously was. The French Rally was indeed demonized under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie LePen, as the French Nazi Party, and the party that promotes xenophobia and racism. It used to be named the National Front. To publicly claim to be a supporter of the National Front was seen as being a Nazi sympathizer at the very least, if not a pure supporter of Nazi politics. Marine LePen fathomed that if she wanted to increase her chances of someday winning the French presidency, she ought to revamp and restructure the party. She changed the name from the National Front to the National Rally. She evicted her father, Jean-Marie LePen, from the presidency of the party, and gradually changed many of the positions that the party stood for before 2017. She now centered her whole presidential campaign on the purchasing power of French people, an issue that concerns more the French people than immigration, security and Islam.
It is undeniable that her work over the reconstruction of the party paid-off. Le Pen polled far better in the 2022 first round than she did five years ago, and surveys from pollster Ifop have suggested that a Macron-Le Pen runoff could be as close as 53% to 47% in favor of the incumbent. Many on the right were suspicious of her ability to convince and win over the right-wing electorate. Even Eric Zemmour, who miserably failed to qualify for the second round with only 7% of the votes, initially claimed that Marine LePen couldn’t win the presidency, and that’s why he was running for President this year. But conceded after losing, and exhorted his supporters to vote for Marine LePen in the second round.
Marine LePen did win against all the odds. She made all those who betrayed her politically and personally, regret their choice. She was now seen as a serious contender to Macron. Although the polls still give Macron the victory for this second round, this victory is clearly not overwhelming. The first round showed that there was only a 4%-point difference between Macron (27.8%) and Marine LePen (23%.2). This difference is significantly narrow compared to that of 2017. It is important to understand that in French electoral politics, the winner of the presidency is chosen on the night of the debate.
The presidential debate for the second round will be held on April 20th, 2022. The winner of the debate that night will be the winner of the elections on April 24th. Can Marine LePen change the outcome? Absolutely! Only if she outperforms Macron on April 20th. Macron is not an easy opponent. His masterful skills in political communication are very hard to overcome. This forthcoming presidential debate is going to be the very last chance for Marine LePen to make a difference. If she loses this election, her political career will officially be over.