What Marine Le Pen’s Success Could Teach Us About Politics
I interviewed Marine Le Pen twice. The first time was in 2015, shortly after the horrific terror attacks on the “Charlie Hebdo” newspaper, and the Jewish supermarket “HyperCacher”. Back then she was a European Parliament member and we met at her very small office in Strasbourg. Her schedule was very light. My request for an interview was accepted almost immediately and we spent more than two hours talking.
The second interview was completely different. It was in 2017, the first day of Le Pen’s official presidential campaign. This time we met in her very large and very impressive office in Paris. The headquarters was full of people and advisors, the schedule was tight. Le Pen was as welcoming as ever, smiling patiently while I was breaking my teeth with basic French. Other than her smile one more thing stayed the same, her message. 2017's Le Pen, same as 2015's, and 2012's all emphasized the dangers of uncontrollable immigration, the loss of the “True French identity”, a harsh language against radical Islam, and generally the need to “make France great again”.
In 2012 she received 17.9% of the votes coming in third. Five years later she managed to go through to the second round, eventually receiving 33.9% of the votes. Yesterday, in the second round of the 2022 elections, Le Pen secured 41.5%. She is no longer an anecdote, she is no longer an outcast, or on the fringe of French politics. Marine Le Pen, and her views, are a big part of the French political system, and of the French way of life.
I was there in 2017, I felt a sense of urgency with many French voters that felt they have to vote in order to “save the republic”. I am there now too. In 2022, this sense of urgency to keep Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace has massively decreased. She’s seen by many as a legitimate contender, one that you might not approve of or not agree with, but legitimate nonetheless.
This got me thinking. Could a politician still be considered an extremist if so many people are backing him? When we refer to politicians like Le Pen as *far*-right, who are we comparing her to?