In September 2014 I had a post entitled “Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17?,” in which I answered my rhetorical question with a categorical no. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it. And I have repeated this on numerous occasions since—on AWAV and in social media exchanges—and dismissing while I was at it the hand-wringers and nervous Nellies who fretted that yes, Henny Penny the sky is falling!, she can win—though without any of these Cassandras offering scenarios as to how this could happen. My confident assertions as to the impossibility of Marine Le Pen being elected president of the republic have been based on her disastrous poll numbers over the past seven years—her favorable/unfavorable rating consistently being one of the worst in the French political class (and far worse than Donald Trump’s at any point)—and the fact that in order for her to prevail in the 2nd round of a presidential election, large numbers of voters who otherwise despise and loathe her, and tell pollsters that they would never under any circumstances vote for her, would then go out and do just that: vote for her. Presidential 2nd rounds have the highest turnout of any election in the French system, averaging—minus one unique, very particular exception—83% since universal suffrage was instituted for the office in 1965. So if Marine were to win, some 20 million voters would likely have to vote for her. To date, the highest number of votes the Front National has ever received is 6.8 million in the 2nd round of the 2015 regional elections (with a 58.5% turnout). Somehow I can’t see this skyrocketing to 20M, particularly as MLP’s popularity ratings (deeply negative) have not moved even slightly in the course of the campaign.
But… circumstances do change. The situation evolves. And when circumstances change and situations evolve, I adjust my analyses accordingly. While I still consider a Marine LP victory to be highly unlikely, I no longer categorically rule it out. Anyone reading this is likely aware that Marine is at the top of the 1st round polls, at around 25%, and with three-fourths of those who say they will vote for her definitive in their choice. She is nigh certain to make it to the 2nd round on May 7th. Everyone takes this for granted at this point. The polls show her losing big in the 2nd, but polls change and her projected 2nd round score is creeping upwards. Whatever happens, she will most certainly break 40%.
So how could she win? Here are the scenarios:
- François Fillon, who, as one knows, is seriously damaged politically, nonetheless manages to rally the LR party base and squeak past Emmanuel Macron and into the 2nd round. Fillon will probably defeat Marine, as a sufficient number of left voters (myself included)—so terrified by the prospect of a Marine victory—will probably vote for him while holding their noses. But large numbers of left voters will not bring themselves to do this, and particularly if Fillon is mis en examen—and he now insists that he’s staying in the race regardless—and doubles down on his Sarkozy-like, hard right rhetoric on immigration and security. The revulsion against Fillon is massive on the left (in a way it was not for Chirac in 2002). If masses of left voters nullify their ballots or stay home, and with a certain number of working class ones who voted Mélenchon in the 1st actually voting for Marine in the 2nd—and one may be sure that she will appeal to this latter cohort in the final phase of the campaign—she could possibly win in a cliffhanger, and particularly if enough conservative LR voters disgusted by Fillon also decide to go for her.
- Benoît Hamon pulls off a shocker and makes it to the 2nd. In this scenario, Fillon’s support would plunge into the mid-teens, with LR voters defecting to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan or to Marine LP herself, who reaches 30% in the 1st. Likewise with Macron, whose serial flip-flopping, trying to be too many things to too many people, and finally revealed as a political Nowhere Man having benefited from a bulle médiatique would prompt his erstwhile center-left supporters to go with Hamon after all—or to François Bayrou if he enters the race. If Bayrou gets in—and he’ll be making an announcement on this tomorrow—he will most certainly peel off voters from Macron, possibly reaching 10% in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, the left would vote as a block for Hamon but LR voters, who so despise the left—and will simply not accept five more years of the PS in power—will go massively for Marine, particular as she will sweet-talk them to death entre les tours. If centrist voters vote blanc/nul or abstain, Marine may well gain enough votes to break 50%.
- The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south for the aforementioned reasons and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.
And there’s more. One thing I have insisted on over the years is that even if, in some outlandish scenario, Marine Le Pen were elected president of the republic, there is no way the FN could possibly win the legislative elections in June. Marine would almost immediately find herself in a cohabitation—and, as one knows, during cohabitations power constitutionally shifts to the prime minister and away from the president. This assertion of mine needs revision. If elected on May 7th, Marine’s first act will be to appoint a prime minister. I guarantee that the man or woman she names will not be from her party. She’ll ask a high-profile hard-right personality from LR, e.g. Laurent Wauquiez, who shares her views on just about everything save Europe (and even then). If she offers the post to Wauquiez, of course he’ll accept. To win over LR support, she’ll compromise on Europe, e.g. by postponing the promised referendum on the euro. Marine’s overtures, not to mention the mere fact of her being at the summit of the state, will blow LR apart, with the right-wingers—Sarkozyistes, Copéistes, most Fillonistes—endorsing an alliance with the FN, and the more moderate conservatives—Juppéistes, some Fillonistes—refusing collaboration, rendering inevitable a breakup of the party. The government constituted by a prime minister Wauquiez will include ministers from the FN, LR, DLF, and MPF, i.e. it will be a coalition of the hard and extreme-right, assembled into an enlarged Rassemblement Bleu Marine (RBM). Some hypothetical ministerial appointments: Florian Philippot (economy/finance), Steeve Briois (interior), Gilbert Collard (justice), Thierry Mariani (foreign affairs), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (European affairs), Gérard Longuet (defense), Eric Ciotti (education), Philippe de Villiers (culture), Robert Ménard (communication), Valérie Boyer (social affairs), Geoffroy Didier (immigration and integration), Lydia Guirous (cities/youth and sports), David Rachline (government spokesman)…
With Marine’s election and such a government in place, the FN would go into the June legislative elections with a head of steam. Given the fragmentation of the political field—with candidates of LR-UDI, the PS, La France Insoumise/PCF, and whatever remains of En Marche!—the number of triangulaires would be exceptionally high, particularly if the turnout is likewise (reaching, say, 70%). Withdrawal accords between FN and pro-FN LR candidates would almost certainly guarantee an RBM majority in the National Assembly. And the rest would be history. Marine Le Pen and the FN would rule France for the next five years. And there’s not a thing the left or anyone else could do about it.
This would be a disaster, needless to say. Marine Le Pen is Donald Trump without the crazy, as James Traub pithily put it, and which thus makes her more dangerous. She knows exactly where she wants to take France and, as president of the republic and with a legislative majority, would have more instruments at her disposal than does Trump in the US, as there are fewer checks on executive power in France hors cohabitation. And her government, such as hypothesized above, would not be made up of kooks and whack jobs à la Trump but rather of seasoned political pros. I will speculate at a later date as to what Marine would do in her first few months in power but, trust me, it would be bad. Very very bad.
The one candidate who can most certainly beat Marine, and handily, is Emmanuel Macron. I’m a little unsettled about him at the moment—I think he’s making some mistakes—but have to hope that his campaign does not falter in the coming two months, that he finishes strongly, and moves into the 2nd round. The fate of the republic may depend on it.