After Trump Win, Parallel Path Is Seen for Marine Le Pen of France’s Far Right
HÉNIN-BEAUMONT, France — It was a moment of intense French patriotism on a sunny Friday, Armistice Day. A band blared “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem. Shouts of “Vive la France!” filled the chilly November air. And there, too, was Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, beaming.
Before Donald J. Trump’s presidential victory in the United States this week, Ms. Le Pen was considered a disruptive political force but far from a true threat to become president herself when France votes next spring. Not anymore.
Since Wednesday, French news outlets, along with Ms. Le Pen’s mainstream political rivals, have been repeating the same thing: It could happen here.
And Ms. Le Pen is not alone. From the Balkans to the Netherlands, politicians on the far right have greeted the election of Mr. Trump with unrestrained delight and as a radical reconfiguring of the political landscape — not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.
They are seeing it as a sign that their time has finally arrived, and that the politics of heightened nationalism, immigrant-bashing and anti-globalization have overturned the pro-globalization, pro-immigration consensus.
“It shows that when the people really want something, they can get it,” Ms. Le Pen said in an interview on Friday in this far-right bastion, in France’s depressed postindustrial north.
“When the people want to retake their destiny in hand, they can do it, despite this ceaseless campaign of denigration and infantilization,” she said.
Far-right leaders competed in their fervor to support Mr. Trump. Those already in office, like Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, took the news of Mr. Trump’s victory as a vindication of their stances. Those seeking office, like Ms. Le Pen or Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, saw it as a hopeful sign for their own aspirations, proclaiming that a revolutionary new order was born this week.
That revolution, they said, has overthrown what they called the “elites” — the mainstream news media and establishment politicians — who are in a tacit alliance.
The enthusiasm of the far right was in striking contrast to the coolness of Europe’s mainstream leaders to the week’s news. Some of them, like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, offered veiled criticism even as they sent Mr. Trump pro forma letters of congratulation.
“It’s the emergence of a new world,” Ms. Le Pen said, after being the first to lay a wreath at the monument here to France’s World War I dead. “It’s the end of the 20th century.”
Even more ecstatic was Mr. Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party. “Congratulations! A historic victory! A revolution! We will return our country to the Dutch,” Mr. Wilders said on Wednesday on Twitter. He expanded on his thoughts in an op-ed for Breitbart, writing, “We are witnessing the same uprising on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Mr. Wilders, who sports his own Trumpian mane of swept blond hair, is on trial in the Netherlands on charges of hate speech for suggesting that the country was home to too many Moroccans. He refused to attend the trial or to disavow the remarks.
His party is allied with Ms. Le Pen’s National Front in the European Parliament, and both are staunchly anti-immigration. He attended several Trump rallies, and like Ms. Le Pen, he is seeking to be his country’s leader.
Populist leaders, not necessarily of the far right, who have mounted insurgent challenges to longstanding political orders were similarly buoyed by Mr. Trump’s victory, like Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement in Italy.
“They called us sexists, homophobes, demagogues and populists,” Mr. Grillo wrote in a blog post. “They don’t realize that millions of people already no longer read their newspapers and no longer watch their television.”
The idea that Mr. Trump’s supporters had delivered a double blow — to the establishment’s ideas and to the “elite” itself — had wide support.
“The left and the corrupt establishment, which considers itself so superior, are being punished blow by blow by the voters and voted out of various positions of responsibility,” said Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria, a serious contender to win the country’s presidency on Dec. 4.
Ms. Le Pen in many ways stands as the most prominent leader of Europe’s far right. The French political establishment was in consensus this week that the news from the United States had put new wind in her political sails.
“Mrs. Le Pen could win in France,” said the former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, usually known for his sobriety.
A cartoon on the front page of the leading daily Le Monde this week showed a grinning Mr. Trump giving the V for victory sign while a winged Ms. Le Pen happily flew away, with the caption, “Marine Le Pen feels wings grow.”
Some analysts, however, pointed out that she faces significant barriers.
For months, it has been an article of faith in France that Ms. Le Pen will reach the runoff in next year’s presidential elections, but will find it impossible to break through the 30-percent barrier that has roughly comprised the National Front’s share of the vote.
In France, voters on the left and right routinely join in the final round of voting, to form what is called a “republican front” to defeat the candidate of the far right.
Experts suggested on Friday that similar logic might operate next year, and that Ms. Le Pen is no Mr. Trump.
“Le Pen is the candidate of a party that is on the margins of the system,” said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on Europe’s far-right parties. “Donald Trump was the candidate of the Republican Party. He had resources that were not comparable to hers.”
Ms. Le Pen was in friendly territory here on Friday in this worn, old former coal-mining town, where unemployment reaches 20 percent, twice the national average.
It is one of 11 or so towns in France ruled by the National Front, and it was difficult to find an opposing voice on Friday. “You’re a fantastic woman!” a woman called out to Ms. Le Pen as she ascended the steep steps of the old city hall building. Others crowded around to have cellphone pictures taken with her.
The National Front mayor here, Steeve Briois, is a favorite of Ms. Le Pen’s.
“France is no longer France,” Mr. Briois said in his speech in the council chambers on Friday — the same line Mr. Trump used after the terrorist attack in Nice in July.
Mr. Briois said later he was aware that Mr. Trump had spoken those words, and he agreed with them.
“There is the same desire to change politics in France,” Mr. Briois said. As in the United States, he added, “a lot of French are victims of globalization and immigration.”
“So, we’ve got to change our politics,” he said. “And the only one who can do it is Marine Le Pen.”