By now, everyone has had a full day to view and process the results of the 2017 French presidential elections. In an election that upended the power of the top two political parties in France, which are Les Republicains and the Parti Socialiste, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen of the Front National with 66 percent of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 34 percent.
This victory by Macron, a pro-EU candidate who identifies as a centrist, upends a global trend of populism that began with Brexit and peaked at the election of President Donald Trump in the U.S. Many on the right in the United States, especially the millennial right, are against the European Union, and have shown a lot of dissatisfaction in her failure to win the recent election. However, now that the elections are over, it is time to ask ourselves whether Le Pen would have been an effective leader, and whether we should even want her as our talisman in Europe.
Much can be said about the racially marred history of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, which was originally started by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, someone who has even recently downplayed the Holocaust and criticized the French national soccer team for having too many black players. Marine Le Pen, his daughter, has sought to clean the reputation of the FN, even going as far as to expel her father, and refocused the party on economic issues and populism as opposed to racially charged rhetoric.
While this makeover has brought improved support for the party, and even made the FN the most popular party among French millennials, there is still much that falls short. Mainly, in a country where it is common to create new parties to represent the same part of the spectrum, it is problematic that the FN has not done the same, especially given the clear reasons to rebrand.
Even without taking into account her own controversial statements, Le Pen has many other problems that should alarm American conservatives. Mainly, most of her political positions are rather far left, such as her position on trade, taxes, and entitlements in France. While her immigration position may be an extreme but arguably necessary counterweight to the notoriously lax immigration policies of Europe, her failure to address the burgeoning welfare state in France will only attract more economic migrants, whether or not they arrive legally or illegally.
Another highly problematic policy point of Marine Le Pen is her plan to withdraw France from NATO. As both a nuclear state, as well as America’s oldest ally, France leaving this military alliance would be a major blow to US military and geopolitical interests. Many supporters of Le Pen in the US also use the mantra America First, so it truly makes no sense to prioritize the interests of French nationalism over the wellbeing of America.
For those who claim that French conservatism does not need to follow the American model, and that France’s sole problem is to curtail immigration and leave the EU, it is important to note that most of the people in France viewed this election mainly as an economic one, given France’s lagging economy. For that reason, among others, Marine Le Pen focused her campaign on economic issues. Also, had Le Pen won, she would have had a tough time enacting most of her proposals, given her lack of support in the legislature (only two MPs). And considering how party leaders left and right united around Macron in a bid to stop Marine Le Pen from gaining support, it is unlikely those same leaders would have been willing to work with her if she was elected President of France.
Based off both the her lack of consensus support as well as the general lack of conservative policies in her platform, I am confident in saying Marine Le Pen would not have become someone worthy of support from the conservative movement.
This is not to say that Emmanuel Macron is a good candidate, as he has major problems of his own. Though his economic policies are good, and an improvement over the socialist policies of the historically unpopular President Francois Hollande, Macron favors further European integration, greater immigration rates, and most problematically, a seeming sense of acceptance of terrorism on French soil.
Given the state of affairs in France the last three years, it is integral that President-elect Macron address the threat of terrorism in the country, specifically, home-grown terrorism, as all but one of the Paris attackers of 2015 were born either in France or Belgium. Neither Macron nor Le Pen seemed to adequately address the issue of home-grown terrorism, and the success and failure of Macron’s presidency will likely be defined not on his economic or social achievements, but whether he can keep the country safe.
While Marine Le Pen may have a few good points, we should not mourn her loss as if we lost a great global standard-bearer for our cause, given her baggage and other shortcomings. We can do better.