Is Marine Le Pen the French Donald Trump?
It seems fashionable nowadays to compare Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen or the Trump movement to the French National Front. The idea behind this comparison is to suggest that the French far right might very well win the coming presidential elections in May 2017 and create a French “Trump surprise.” But, as when it came to comparisons between Brexit and Trump, comparisons between Trump and Le Pen tend to be hyped.
There are some evident similarities between Le Pen and Trump, but there are also crucial differences. It is true that both tend to reject mass immigration and globalism, that their discourse is deeply anti-elitist, and that the establishment, at least during election time, frenetically smears them. Their current successes flow from global skepticism of politics and the establishment media and the intelligentsia. Furthermore, France, maybe more than any other western country, experiences a deep identity crisis which was recently revived by the migrant crisis. This has been fertile ground for the National Front’s wins.
Marine Le Pen has, however, some fundamental differences with Trump. First, she is not a billionaire. Although this could seem irrelevant, one reason Trump appealed to so many electors is that he was not beholden to special interests, did not need to be president, and proved himself to be an efficient businessman, making projects happen ahead of schedule and under budget. For Trump’s supporters, their candidate was running in this election out of genuine love for his country, not out of material interest. Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, is a career politician. As with every career politician, her job is to be elected and reelected. Whereas Trump was a part of the private sector, Marine Le Pen made politics her career and is therefore not viewed as an outsider as much as Trump is.
On this note, Trump’s profile might be closer to another presidential candidate: Emmanuel Macron. Macron was a French government senior official and an investment banker at Rothschild before he engaged in politics. In 2014, he became minister of the economy in the socialist government until he resigned in 2016. Unlike Trump, Macron is no billionaire, but he nonetheless appears as a non-career politician who does not need to be elected (i.e., whose motives are supposedly selfless). Thus, Trump’s ability to identify topics of interest to the electorate is sometimes closer to Macron’s skills than to Le Pen’s.
After three decades of rising inequality in the US, Trump indeed identified that the game is rigged. His election was the revenge of the outsiders. Similarly, Macron’s ability to identify implications is based on the division between insiders and outsiders. Obviously, Trump’s and Macron’s policy conclusions differ. Macron is sensibly more pro-market, or, at least, pro free trade.
Marine Le Pen’s platform, on the other hand, is much closer to what could be called national-collectivism. Social justice and the condemnation of “ultra-liberalism” are strong themes in all her campaigns and her economic inspirations are much closer to the far-left than anything else. For instance, in their program, the National Front plans to make the tax structure more progressive. Whereas there are some pro-business or pro-market hints in Trump’s suggested priorities, there are none in Marine Le Pen’s.
When it comes to personality and style, it is probably the National Front's founder Jean Marie Le Pen — Marine's father — who is most like Donald Trump. The elder Le Pen started his political career in the Poujadist movement. In the 1950s, Pierre Poujade led a resistance by convincing the merchants from a little southern French town, St. Céré, to refuse tax payment. Poujade’s grassroots movement quickly grew and won 41 seats at the national assembly in 1956. Rothbard writes brilliantly on Poujadisme as follows:
Poujadisme is, indeed, a “people’s movement,” in the fullest sense of that overworked term. Paris was astonished to see the Poujadist delegates come to town: a parade of butchers, bakers, grocers, students, booksellers — the first real grassroots delegation in decades.
But, whereas Jean Marie Le Pen started politics in a grassroots anti-tax movement, the National Front is by now a 44-year-old party well established on the political scene. The Trump movement is little more than one year old. Marine Le Pen is now a constant in the French political landscape, not the novelty Trump is.
Other fundamental differences between these two blond headed political animals are apparent. Trump, on the one hand, never really tried to appeal to mainstream media and intellectuals. Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, after her father left political life in 2011, tried, until now quite successfully, to “de-demonize” the National Front. She opened the party to intellectuals, technocrats, and to the more moderate young generation.
Jean Marie Le Pen, who still is the honorary president of the National Front, immediately pinpointed the critical differences between Trump’s strategy and Marine’s. On twitter, while he praised the “tremendous kick in the ass to the mondialists and French political and mediatic systems” implied by Trump’s election. He also wrote:
Long live Trump! The de-demonization is crap and a dead-end. The peoples need truth and courage. Congratulation America!
This tweet appears to be aimed directly at his daughter’s strategy.
For all these reasons, we need to be careful when comparing Le Pen and Trump. In many respects, Trump is strictly an American phenomenon and it is doubtful that the French could ever elect a billionaire. But if Le Pen is more socialist, it is only because the French electorate tends to be more anti-market and pro-State. As within America’s Beltway, political power in France lies mostly inside Paris and draws an unchallenged line between Parisians and the subservient folks in the “province.” But, unlike populism in the US, the National Front constantly asks for more centralization in an already over-centralized country.
The differences between Trumpism and the French far right are not in themselves handicaps for the French but rather adaptations to different environments. The only thing that could be a prejudice for the National Front is that it might already be too mainstream. Nonetheless, although it is not to be wished from a libertarian viewpoint, a Le Pen surprise is possible in the 2017 presidential elections. Probably, Le Pen will make her way to the second round of the presidential election but will not win. This would already be in itself a shock for the two party system. If Marine were to be elected, she would have to change the electoral rules if she wants to have a majority in parliament.
The future is uncertain. Marine Le Pen has a long way to go before she can become the French Donald Trump.
Originally published November 20, 2016, on the Mises Wire.
Louis Rouanet is currently a student at the Paris Institute for Political Studies.