The Future of France's National Front

Marine Le Pen Is Down but Not Out

Marine Le Pen at a press conference in Nanterre, France, January 2018. Charles Platiau / REUTERS

"I was born with political setbacks." At the time she made this confession, back in October 2012, Marine Le Pen, then the up-and-coming new leader of France’s National Front party, did not mean it as an admission of doom. In her stark office on the second floor of the National Front’s headquarters in Nanterre, a lackluster residential banlieue a few miles west of Paris, she retraced her bumpy political life to me. For many years, she had operated in the shadow of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who generated decades of headlines and court cases with his anti-Semitic and racist outbursts. “To run for Congress and then to lose, that’s been our daily lot,” she philosophized. “Some have pleasant political journeys. Us? We trek with our backpacks on, we fall, we get back on our feet, we fall again, we get back on our feet again.”

In hindsight, Le Pen’s statement sounds prophetic. After a stratospheric rise that pushed her party to the front of the pack in the first round of regional elections in 2015, with up to 40 percent of the vote in some strongholds in the north and the south-east of France, Le Pen made it to the second round of the French presidential election last May only to be crushed, 34 percent to 66 percent, by Emmanuel Macron, a political newcomer. In the following parliamentary elections, the National Front spiraled down to a miserable 13 percent, the same score as five years before. Today, with party members jumping ship by the hundreds, dissenters openly questioning Le Pen’s leadership abilities, a trial for allegedly embezzling funds from the European Parliament on the horizon, and a financial crisis within the party, commentators have been quick to write Le Pen’s obituary.

Should they write her off so quickly? It’s tempting to declare the French far right obsolete. But doing so would risk repeating the same mistakes and allowing the same lack of vigilance that in part led to U.

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