In the end, the results were predictable. As in all of the Le Pen family’s previous attempts to capture the Élysée Palace, the Republican Front, which spans from right to left (to paraphrase Israel’s anti-Netanyahu slogan: “Anyone but Le Pen”), blocked the path of the dictator-venerating, xenophobic family to the presidential palace.
But can it last forever? President Emmanual Macron won by an impressive margin, 17 percent, but it is still significantly smaller than his 32 percent margin against Marine Le Pen in their first contest, five years ago.
When we recall that 20 years ago, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was defeated by Jacques Chirac by a margin of 64 percent, his daughter’s achievement looks far more impressive. The trend is clear: The extreme right coalition, bolstered by extreme left voters, has come closer than ever to destabilizing France and the entire world. It’s clear that the “anti-establishment” coalition has not spoken its final word. Le Pen’s electorate is patient, and, despite the repeated defeats, the trend is clear.
Le Pen is the clear successor not only of her Holocaust-denying father, but of the murky, anti-humanist stream that has existed in France throughout its modern history. From those who falsely accused Alfred Dreyfus, to those who collaborated with the Vichy government and up to the violent underground movement that sought to prevent France from granting independence to Algeria: France is not only the birthplace of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” it is also home to reactionary ideas that have often threatened it and all of Europe.
Macron faces a far greater task than just surviving his term without violent upsets. That, after all, was Jacques Chirac’s goal after winning his second term in 2002. He was rewarded with a wave of riots that rocked France in 2005, led by the children of immigrants in the suburbs of the large cities. Macron, the youngest French leader since Napoleon, and perhaps the most brilliant French president since Charles de Gaulle, must formulate an overall response to the challenge Le Pen presents to the French political system.
He is meant to implement reforms that will once again allow French citizens from the social and geographical periphery to believe in the system that made the republic one of the wealthiest and most progressive in the world. He certainly has the intellectual abilities and leadership qualities to do so. The fact that he earned a majority of votes from those under the age of 25 and over the age of 60 is a unique and promising combination.
Will Macron really try to bring reform? Historically, French presidents are not very active during their second term, and are cautious about grooming a successor. The founder of the Fifth Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, felt disdain for his eventual successor, Georges Pompidou. He preferred to leave, twice, only to avoid crowning him (his disappearance to Germany during the May ‘68 student rebellion and his demonstrative resignation a year later).
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Francois Mitterrand made sure not to nurture a successor from among the talented young socialists who surrounded him. Chirac did everything possible to eliminate Nicholas Sarkozy, who was perceived as his clear successor from the right.
Will Macron, who is scheduled to leave the Élysée before turning 50, succeed in grooming a successor who can carry on with a process of a profound reform? Or perhaps he will choose to continue in the tradition of “Exit the King” (based on the play by Eugene Ionesco): A ruler who believes that there is not and cannot be anything after him?
The statement attributed to Louis XV, “Apres moi le deluge,” is an apt warning for Macron during his second term. If he leaves behind a vacuum, the deluge will in fact flood France. The Le Pen family or its ilk will take it from there in 2027.