Never was the extreme right so close to coming to power in France, but in the end it failed. While much of the country —and Europe, and the world— breathed a sigh of relief to learn that Emmanuel Macron had defeated Marine Le Pen, among the supporters of the far-right presidential candidate, gathered to follow the election night in an old pavilion hunting on the outskirts of Paris, a cry of frustration resounded that did not placate even the knowledge that, despite her defeat, the leader of the National Rally (RN) had achieved her best result in history, 41.46% of the votes, according to the count of the Ministry of the Interior. “The ideas that we represent have reached the summit,” Le Pen said, acknowledging Macron’s victory.
“These results represent a victory,” the RN leader insisted in the speech in which she acknowledged her defeat, the second in a row, in her goal of becoming the next president of France. Her words came just 12 minutes after the first results were known at 8:00 p.m. “Millions of our compatriots have chosen the national field,” said the far-right candidate. “We are more determined than ever. This defeat can only be a hope, a signal to the French and European leaders that there is a great challenge from the French people, which they cannot ignore. “The game is not over,” she warned and called for a battle against Macron’s “destructive project” in the legislative elections that will be held in a few weeks.
Fabienne Daumas applauded wildly, as did the 500 other invited supporters gathered at the Pavillion de Armenonville, an 18th-century hunting lodge converted into a restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne, next to Neully-sur-Seine, one of the wealthiest areas of Paris (and where Macron won from the first round) reserved by the RN for election night. Still, this chemical industry worker who came from the Val d’Oise department to the RN’s party could not hide her disgust.
“Of course I am disappointed, the country was already in a catastrophic state, Macron is a president who does not support the French, he does not love us, he spits on France, on its history and on culture, he despises us”, he repeated while Le Pen He spoke and promised that the battle would continue.
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Along with a friend who accompanied her to what she hoped would finally be a victory celebration, Daumas finished the glass of champagne bottled especially for the occasion —Champagne Marine President 2022, said the etiquette, that the waiters opened non-stop from before 8:00 p.m. The last drink, she recognized, already tasted bitter. Others had already left their glass unfinished and were beginning to leave the room.
According to the French press, the far-right leader had planned, in the event of victory, to parade with a procession of buses from all over France, through various places “symbolic of the bond between the people and the State”, as an adviser to the Le Pen, who cited the Arc de Triomphe —just a few minutes from the pavilion—, the Place de la Concorde or the Place de la République. No vehicle came out other than the caravan that took Le Pen and his team a while later, leaving the few supporters in the pavilion who were trying to digest the new defeat and look forward, they said, to the June legislative elections as a form of revenge.
This was also seen by one of Le Pen’s closest men, David Rachline, mayor of RN in the southern town of Fréjus. “We have made quite spectacular progress compared to 2017, we have to continue that work. In a few weeks there will be legislative elections and if all those who have mobilized for this second presidential round are going to vote for the legislative elections, the French will be able to benefit from legislators who will fight against Macron’s policy,” he assured journalists. Rachline accused Macron’s team of having tried to “diabolize and caricature” the far-right leader, to the point of “having frightened some French people.”
The Marine Le Pen of 2022 is not the same Le Pen as in 2017. She has completed the de-diabolization process that began when she took charge of the party 11 years ago and that has accelerated in the last five years after her defeat in 2017, in which Many called her a political corpse. Instead, she has known how to continue polishing her image and that of her party, which presents a program with the ends filed off, although the background remains very hard. Nothing about leaving the euro zone, as he proclaimed five years ago —and which, according to many experts, was one of the keys to his defeat— nor openly talking about leaving the European Union, even though his proposal for a Europe of nations means de facto question the foundations of the block of Twenty-seven. A strong hand against migrants, yes, and a lot, but by way of a referendum to consult with the “people.” That “people” has been fundamental in the campaign. Le Pen was able to quickly identify purchasing power as one of the key issues in this electoral process and has fully exploited it, presenting herself as the candidate who will defend the forgotten citizens who cannot make ends meet from the “caste” and the “oligarchy”.
sweeten the image
For Joao and Monique Da Costa, a couple from the Parisian region of Portuguese origin (she was born in France of migrant parents, he arrived at the age of 18) and RN militants for years, it has been the right strategy. “Marine has changed his image, he has removed the Le Pen, which was his father, and now he has other ideas. I think that he is modernizing himself with the new people that arrive ”to the party, they valued. They are convinced that this change of image is paying off, although it has not yet resulted in victory.
To begin with, they say, they no longer hide their political affiliation. “The situation has changed. Even us, who have been FN for years, it is true that before we could not speak openly; now we dare to do it more and we see that it is a great political force and that we need to convince more people”, they say. After all, they point out, the RN is today “the second political force in France”, although that power of votes has not yet been transferred to real power: there are barely a handful of RN deputies in the National Assembly and the party he only governs in a city of more than 100,000 inhabitants, Perpignan.
“It has softened her image, it is less virulent and it is a good strategy for her and for her party”, agreed Denise Cornet. This retiree from Paris is a dedicated militant. Last Thursday, she traveled to Arras for the last Marine Le Pen rally. She has been a member of the FN for 30 years and has known all the joys, which have not been many, and also the bitterness of defeats, much more numerous. Just like tonight, she was also at the 2002 election night celebration, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom she says “venerate,” made it through to the second round. Le Pen Sr. suffered a devastating defeat: only 18% of the vote, while his rival, Jacques Chirac, obtained 82%.
Faced with that result, 41.46% this Sunday did not sound so bad. “Going this far is already a victory, even though he is not in power, he has done what he could,” he asserted. From the podium, Le Pen promised that he will not throw in the towel, despite the fact that he accumulates a third presidential defeat. Cornet agreed, although he was not worried either, he said, that in the future there will not be a Le Pen at the head of what has been his party for almost half of his life. Would you vote if there was someone else, for example the young president of the RN, Jordan Bardella? “Why not? It is above all the ideas that I defend. And the background remains the same.