French far-right leader Marine Le Pen stole a line from pro-Brexit campaigners in a televised debate on Monday, castigating other presidential candidates who criticized her plans to leave the euro as resorting to “project fear”.
The National Front is the template of much of the Alt-Right, both intellectually and politically. Marine Le Pen has done much trying to clean up its Vichy fascist associations, yet the core of the party remains the same: unabashed French nationalism, closed borders, a return to a yesterday that never existed.
Now coming into the final weeks of the critical French presidential election, Le Pen is hoping she can discover a band of disgruntled anti-EU, anti-globalization voters willing to gamble on her leadership. The United States and Britain are the models: British elites never thought their countryside would turn on the European Union, and American elites never thought middle Americans would choose a billionaire New Yorker to lead them towards isolationism. Now Le Pen hopes French elites are just as wrong about their own disgruntled forgotten class.
But the French presidential system is not like either the Brexit vote or the U.S. presidential election. Rather than a single round of selection, the system allows run-offs between the top two vote holders. This is a critical difference: voters can have second thoughts after coming up with reality. Would Trump or Brexit have succeeded a second time around, once it became clear that their improbability was not the same as impossibility? That’s rather doubtful.
The defeat of the Netherland’s Alt-Right last week is also heartening: anti-Alt-Right factions are unifying in the faction of a clear threat to their political existence.
Beyond that, however, Le Pen offers a geopolitically intolerable situation for the French: withdrawal from the European Union, the very economic system that has given France security from Germany after centuries of war and raids. While NATO still holds all the hard power cards, the EU was designed to tie Berlin and Paris so tightly together that neither set of elites could gamble on war. French citizens, regardless of how anti-Muslim, still understand this, and anti-German sentiment in France is not strong enough to propel a gambit to burn the bridges over the Rhine.
Yet that doesn’t undercut how critical this election is. Upsets were more than possible in 2016. Perhaps they still are in 2017.