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Marine Le Pen has long been preparing for her second presidential meeting with Emmanuel Macron next spring when a political newcomer disrupted her plans.
As recently as September 12, with polls suggesting the veteran right-wing politician and French president, as in 2017, were the best candidates likely to reach the second and final round of voting in April, she explained which she regarded as a simple mood: ‘The French want this choice between him and me. It really is a choice between globalism and nationalism. ”
Then came Eric Zemmour. The right-wing television polemicist, who has not yet officially declared himself a presidential contender, has launched an attack on public opinion that has confused the polls.
As Zemmour’s voter turnout rose for the first round from 7 percent the first time he was included at Harris Interactive three weeks ago to 13 percent Now, support for Le Pen has plummeted from 23% to 16% over the past month. Zemmour is also close to voting at the same level as the third-placed candidate, Xavier Bertrand the middle right The Republicans, which is at 14 percent. Macron remained constant at 23 percent.
Zemmour was a new element in what has hitherto looked like an outdated campaign, said Christèle Lagier, assistant professor at the University of Avignon. “If his candidacy becomes real, it will hurt the right and the far right,” she said.
When Le Pen started her campaign in the Mediterranean city of Fréjus only a few weeks ago, she rejected his chance as a presidential hope and called him a ‘third candidate’, who would disappear like many.
“I’m always glad there are extra candidates who are starting to say the things we’ve been saying for 20 years,” Le Pen said. “There have always been marginal candidates.”
However, Zemmour is no longer marginal, say political scientists. Zemmour, fueled by publicity from a first television program, a dedicated YouTube channel and a new book, launched attacks on Muslim immigration and what he saw as the decline of French civilization. He was twice convicted of racial or religious remarks.
Le Pen’s problem with Zemmour is that although he does not shy away from aggressive views, she has moderated her tone in an attempt to ‘detoxify’ her party in an attempt to win over traditional center-right and former communist voters since she inherited the party. had her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a decade ago.
On immigration, while Le Pen proposed a referendum on identity, citizenship and immigration control, Zemmour called for a ban on foreign first names such as Mohammed, saying he would favor the return of 2 million foreigners to their country of origin.
This week, when asked about the lessons of labor shortages and the need for foreign workers in Britain after Brexit, Le Pen even said that she was not an ideologue and that it would accept the need for foreign labor in the French sectors. “If my country, France, needs immigrants, then so be it,” she said.
“Many think her ‘detoxification’ policy is wrong,” said political analyst Vincent Martigny. “She must stay on a radical line so as not to lose her supporters, but she must also open up to gain new voters. This has always been her dilemma. ”
The reprint of Le Pen has had a limited impact. Many voters who see themselves as center-right — those who backed the shame of center-right politician François Fillon in his failed bid for the 2017 presidency — may be inclined to support Zemmour, even if his views are more extreme than those of Le Pen, according to analysts.
They say it’s because Le Pen carries the baggage of her party’s past, rooted in anti – Semitism, while Zemmour – of Algerian Jewish descent – is a well – known Parisian intellectual.
‘Those who support the LR are in many ways very close to those of the Front National [the old name for Le Pen’s Rassemblement National], ”Said Martigny. “But they do not want to enter into an alliance with the FN, because ‘they are racist and we are acceptable people’.
Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on extremism, agrees on the tendencies of Fillon’s supporters. “There are voters who are ready to switch to someone who is in favor of the market economy, an intellectual, yet very hard on immigration, and so on.”
If Zemmour managed to wipe out Le Pen from the second round, it could paradoxically hurt Macron, who reckoned in the second round another easy victory in the second round. The president could face someone like Bertrand from the center-right, who according to polls has a better chance of beating him than Le Pen.
At the moment, however, Le Pen is the main victim of Zemmour’s rise. “Everyone knows Marine Le Pen can’t win,” is one of Zemmour’s favorite phrases, and the person who works hardest to make sure it’s true is none other than Zemmour himself.