Financial markets surged Monday on expectations that a young centrist, Emmanuel Macron, is all but certain to defeat the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election next month.
Le Pen had spooked investors with fiery anti-globalization rhetoric centered around pulling France out of the European Union and the euro currency zone. But are the markets too confident? Le Pen may not have won Sunday’s preliminary vote, but she finished a close second in a field of 11 — and Macron is an untested opponent, having never won elected office.
A lot can happen between now and the runoff on May 7, when voters will truly decide who gets to move into the presidential palace. Still, there are good reasons for europhiles to break out the champagne — or at least order some cases and get them chilled.
At this point, a Le Pen victory would require something more like a miracle than a comeback — a reversal far more dramatic than the last-minute electoral twists that gave us Brexit and President Trump.
Head-to-head polls show Macron running ahead of Le Pen by about 25 points. That’s an enormous lead. Trump, at his worst, was never more than 10 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton. And while pundits may have doubted that the Brits would opt to “leave,” pollsters had it roughly neck-and-neck.
There’s no reason to think Le Pen could close such a gap. Just because some populist causes have found surprise paths to victory doesn’t mean they all do. The far-right Dutch candidate Geert Wilders came up well short of expectations in last month’s elections.
More important, mainstream French politicians are lining up behind Macron, to ensure he holds this lead. That includes not just members of the Socialist party — in which Macron once served — but also the center-right. Within hours of Sunday’s election, their defeated candidate, Francois Fillon, gave Macron his public endorsement.
This never happened during the Trump campaign. True, some Republican politicians and thought leaders expressed doubts about Trump, but few actively threw their support to Hillary Clinton. So the left-right divide remained largely intact, with one party for Clinton, the other largely against her.
The Brexit case is slightly more complicated. Rhetorically, at least, centrists from both parties did agree about the benefits of continued European Union membership, but key Labour party leaders in Britain were slow to mobilize and remained lukewarm in their commitment.
Not so in France, where the elites have shown that they will sacrifice party interests to defend what they consider higher principles — including saying no to a far-right party with a history of racism.
During regional elections in 2015, a number of Socialist candidates strategically dropped out in order to shore up support for the center-right and to forge a unified opposition to Le Pen.
There is a slight crack in the unified wall this time around: The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is refusing to endorse Macron. But polls suggest his voters have little crossover interest in Le Pen.
So the problem for Le Pen, and France’s far right more generally, is that whenever they get close to holding power, the whole political world reorganizes to stop them.
And again this time around, they don’t seem likely to overcome that unified opposition.
Another defeat would surely disappoint Le Pen’s ardent supporters, but investors know it’s good news for the euro and for the European project.
Brexit may keep moving forward, but Frexit has probably been stalled — for now.
Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz.