Analysis

France Finds a Savior in Macron, but Is He a False One?

The young centrist is seen as a slayer of the nationalist monster, but if he doesn't do well in June's parliamentary election, the National Front will strengthen

Emmanuel Macron talks to journalists in Paris, April 23, 2017, after the first round of the presidential elections.
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP

When he takes the stage at rallies, you can feel Emmanuel Macron’s messianic dimensions – the audience’s near-sexual ecstasy, his followers’ blind faith, his speech writers’ evangelical messages. People yearn to get a picture with him, speak with him, touch him. And of course there’s the threat that every messiah in history has warned of – the chaos awaiting those who don’t believe in him.

Macron is the messiah who saved France from the monsters of its past. He’s a messiah who came out of nowhere, a minor minister lacking administrative experience. He’s an amazingly young candidate with a surprisingly mature platform. He’s a socialist who trained as an investment banker at Rothschild and Cie. He’s a member of the bourgeois surrounded by communists and capitalists, students and pensioners, men and women.

But France didn’t bother to check his credentials. Macron is the messiah and he has a messiah’s most important attribute – timing.

Can Marine Le Pen engineer a surprise second-round win? It appears she’ll lose as the legitimate parties close ranks. François Fillon, who insisted on leading the Republican Party to defeat, gave a speech immediately after the initial results were announced and told his supporters to vote against the far right.

“In other words, vote for Emmanuel Macron,” he said. The hapless socialist candidate, Benot Hamon, did the same thing. But will it be enough to block Le Pen?

The polls now forecast a decisive victory for Macron with 58 percent of the vote in the May 7 runoff. But these polls are wrong because people mistakenly believe they’ll vote in the second round even if their candidate loses. In 2012, the polls forecast that François Hollande would capture 58 percent of the vote over Nicolas Sarkozy, but he ended up with 51.6 percent. It’s nice at home, and the lines are long at the ballot box. Great is the temptation to believe that others will bother to go out and stop the National Front.

A few minutes after the initial results came in, Le Pen’s young niece and designated successor, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, rushed to draw up the National Front’s strategy for the next two weeks. The National Front will argue that Macron is a radical leftist who controls the press and the elites, so all right-wingers must vote against him in the second round.

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron in Paris, April 23, 2017.
Bloomberg

“The choice is between the continuation of the lunatic socialist regime and the rebirth of France under a sane and responsible president, Marine Le Pen,” she argues.

If so, Le Pen has two possible allies in addition to low second-round participation: right-wingers who find Macron too leftist and Jean-Luc Mélenchon supporters who consider Macron too close to the establishment.

As I wrote these lines, I could hear shouts from a violent demonstration at Place de la Bastille; leftists were refusing to accept the election results. They called for opposition against “all forms of fascism, the fascism of Le Pen and the fascism of Macron.”

Le Pen needs more French citizens like these. After all, leftist supporters of Mélenchon will have a very hard time voting for Macron. Economically, Le Pen is closer to them. Le Pen only needs to let them waver and stay home.

Her main job will be with rightist supporters, who’ll have a hard time suddenly voting for Hollande’s junior minister. Le Pen probably can’t hope for a second-round victory, but she can narrow the gap enough to shake up the regime and prepare for the next battle: the June legislative election.

Let’s not forget Le Pen’s worst shortcoming. She proved that she’s incapable of adjusting to a changing reality. She didn’t foresee the meteoric rise of the radical-leftist Mélenchon, who stole from her at least half her potential voters. And she wasn’t wise enough to adopt the right tone after the terror attacks in France, including the one on the Champs-lysées three days before the election.

Essentially, Le Pen isn’t really a demagogue, and she certainly isn’t a populist. She’s an ideological nationalist. She relies on a very family-oriented base that’s very Christian, mostly anti-Semitic, old fashioned and unimaginative. Her model is that of her father, and she hides behind quotes by Charles de Gaulle.

Macron’s blue eyes telegraphed a younger France that’s no less anti-establishment and full of hope. Le Pen doesn’t speak his language and doesn’t understand the power of his attraction. Even on Sunday night she gave a victory speech with words like “the nation,” “the reign of the money power” and “safe borders” – which could have been heard in 1933, and were heard.

But remember that Macron has no party. To win the second round he’ll have to recruit candidates from the two major parties, who are likely to convince their voters to compensate them and not support the president’s new party.

If Macron fails to form a parliamentary coalition, he won’t be able to change anything in France, so the forces that took Le Pen to the second round will strengthen. Discontent will only deepen, and frustration will crown Le Pen – be it Marine or her niece – in the 2022 election.

Macron the savior probably halted the monster on Sunday, but she’s still there waiting for the moment she can claim he was nothing but a false messiah.