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Editorial

Defeating Trump’s French connection

Marine Le Pen spoke Sunday after the first round of the French presidential elections.
Marine Le Pen spoke Sunday after the first round of the French presidential elections.IAN LANGSDON/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER her father shocked the world by making the final round of the French presidential election, Marine Le Pen repeated the feat on Sunday, finishing second in a field of 11 candidates. If anything, the stakes heading into the run-off vote are higher this time, and the potential consequences of a Le Pen victory May 7 even more ominous.

When the elder Le Pen, a longtime right-wing crackpot, advanced to the final round of voting against Jacques Chirac in 2002, virtually the entire French political world rallied to Chirac’s side. So did the international community: then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell, without specifically urging a vote against Le Pen, tipped his hand when he said: “I’m pleased that the polls suggest he will be overwhelmingly marginalized and defeated by Mr. Chirac.”

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The younger Le Pen has tried to project a more moderate image since taking control of her father’s political movement, even while keeping up the anti-immigrant scare-mongering that made her father such a notorious figure.

What has really changed, though, is the international context.

When Jean-Marie Le Pen ran in 2002, he seemed like a quirky throwback, never given a serious shot at victory. Marine Le Pen, though, is riding a wave of anti-immigrant populism in Western countries that has propelled once-noxious views into the mainstream.

Running against an opponent who has never held elected office, Emmanuel Macron, she stands at least an outside chance of victory.

In a sign of how much the world has changed, President Trump, himself a beneficiary of anti-immigrant populism, has barely concealed his support for Le Pen. A Le Pen victory in May would continue the trend that began with last year’s vote in Britain to exit the European Union as well as Trump’s election in November. She wants to take France out of the European Union, and rails against Muslims and immigrants.

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Macron, 39, an ardently pro-European Union candidate, could hardly make a better foil for Le Pen. He even once worked at Rothschild, the bank whose very name is an anti-Semitic dog whistle in French politics. Left-wing protesters threw a temper tantrum on the streets of Paris Sunday night after none of the leftist candidates advanced, raising fears some might sit out the final vote. But just as French voters proved a willingness to put aside partisan differences to defeat one Le Pen in 2002, one hopes Macron can rally French voters to defeat another threat to decency and tolerance in May.

Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly listed the date of the French runoff election.