With the French Socialist Party tearing itself apart, and the low-income electorate practically up for grabs, Marine Le Pen can confidently believe the polls that comfortably put her in the second round of the presidential vote this June. However, it’s not all good news as her conservative rival François Fillon can count on the middle class vote, especially social conservatives who want less regulation, a thinner public sector, restricted immigration and tougher drug laws. Fillon will also likely have support from the traditional left, who will undoubtedly support him over the National Front candidate.
The 2017 race will likely be uneventful, giving Marine Le Pen an audience for her cause but not an electorate to win. The road to the 2022 election will thus be a long, five years in which party infighting could dethrone her and make way for a younger alternative, her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen first entered politics in 1992 at age two, when she featured in a campaign poster alongside her grandfather, far-right icon and founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Despite her early introduction to politics, Marion Le Pen’s childhood experiences made it seem unlikely that she would join the National Front. Haunted by the provocative nationalism of her grandfather — who made headlines by claiming the Nazi occupation of France “had not been particularly inhumane” and said that “Mr. Ebola” would solve the issues regarding demographics in Africa — Marion Le Pen was forced to leave public education where she was continuously bullied.
Despite the opposition she faced at an early age, Marion Le Pen ended up following the footsteps of her family. She joined her grandfather’s party at age 18, after being disappointed by then president Nicolas Sarkozy’s policies such as 2008 the bank bailout, his refusal to put the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum and failure to address domestic security. Sarkozy negated the basic principles of democracy and sovereignty, and inadvertently drove the self-proclaimed patriot into politics.
While she was off to a rough start because her familial ties didn’t guarantee political support, Marion Le Pen eventually lived up to expectations. Because of her feisty attitude and rhetoric, closely resembling that of her aunt, she worked her way up the party ladder. She also had the added advantage of entering politics at a time when the French electorate was becoming increasingly anti-trade, with more than half believing that free trade is responsible for rising prices and unemployment. In 2012, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen shocked the political establishment by being elected the first National Front Member of Parliament and, at the age of 22, the youngest person ever to be elected to the French National Assembly.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has also managed to profit from her family’s infamous political legacy without being subjected to its devilish image. Since 2011, the National Front has followed the policy of dédiabolisation, aimed at softening and broadening the appeal of the party. Started by Marine Le Pen, this policy has sought to rid the party of racists, anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers, starting with Jean-Marie Le Pen himself who was expelled from the National Front executive board in August 2015. Despite these efforts, Marine Le Pen is constantly subjected to criticism while Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has distanced herself from it, even though she campaigns on the same illiberal and economically unwise positions that the National Front has been spewing for decades.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has learnt how to walk the thin ice between running on a nationalist platform while carefully avoiding the labels of racism and xenophobia. She also had the added advantage of entering politics at a time when the French electorate is becoming increasingly anti-trade. “Third time’s the charm” is what they say. If Marine Le Pen fails this year, then this woman is likely to be the France’s next far-right superstar.
Bill Wirtz is a Students for Liberty advocate. He writes in four languages, and his articles have been appeared in daily Luxembourgish newspapers, Newsweek, and the Washington Examiner.