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Opinion | What Marine Le Pen Has Already Won

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“There are a lot of lies,” Ms. Bernard said. “Like that she’s ‘like her dad,’ in quotation marks, but she’s totally the opposite. Her father” — Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former presidential candidate and the longtime leader of the far-right National Front party — “was completely racist. She’s not. She wants everyone to respect our ways. If you go to Africa, you respect African law. Her father just wanted to kick them all out.”

Such views are not uncommon, especially in small towns in France with little to no immigration. In fact, 15 years after her father’s last run for president, Ms. Le Pen has not significantly diverged from his views on immigration even though she renamed the party, in what has been seen as an attempt distance herself from him and broaden the base. She wants asylum seekers to be processed abroad and has said her first act as president will be to propose a referendum on immigration.

In La Roche-en-Brenil, a town of almost 900 people, I spoke to a 34-year-old mother of five, Chloé Odermatt, who was pushing a stroller with her 3-month-old baby. She said she’d vote for Ms. Le Pen and liked that she proposed stricter controls on giving immigrants access to state services. “A lot of them take advantage of the system and aren’t integrated in France,” she told me.

This election has further scrambled the traditional divide between left and right in France. Ms. Le Pen has managed to widen her consensus by combining far-right positions on immigration with a left-leaning defense of public spending and social welfare. Her message resonates, even with younger voters like Ms. Bernard — she has promised to eliminate income tax for people under 30 — and her once extreme positions appear less so now that the center right has also adopted much of the same rhetoric, especially on national-identity issues. Help came as well from Éric Zemmour, whose firebrand declarations made her seem more moderate.

Across Burgundy, Le Pen voters kept telling me they wanted Mr. Macron out because prices kept going up and salaries weren’t keeping pace. In La Roche-en-Brenil, I asked a Le Pen supporter whether that was entirely Mr. Macron’s fault. “Well, it’s not mine,” Thierry Chenier, 50, said. “We’ve tried the right, that didn’t work. We’ve tried the left, that didn’t work. Maybe we need to try the far right, with a woman in power.”

Mr. Macron won the election in 2017 telling France it needed to change, pushing through labor reform that makes it easier for businesses to hire and fire. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest in 13 years, but Mr. Macron simultaneously signaled that jobs weren’t as secure as they once were. This heightened anxieties. The Le Pen voters I spoke with said they wanted change, but mostly they seemed to want preservation — keeping their lower retirement age, raising pensions, lowering their cost of living. The change they want may actually be a status quo that Mr. Macron has said is no longer sustainable.

And yet he has made great efforts to shore up the economy. During the pandemic, the Macron government pledged to spend “whatever it costs” to support businesses. He quickly started reopening schools and helped employers keep workers on furlough so that they could come back to work when the lockdowns ended. Still, it is hard to win saying, “Imagine how much worse things could have been.”



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