PARIS – Watching the results of the second ballot in France’s regional elections on December 13, surrounded by my family, I was overpowered by a sense of relief, and even pride. The party of hatred – Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) – failed to win a single region. Democracy had prevailed. The values of the Republic had triumphed.
One month to the day after terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, the French once again demonstrated clear-eyed stoicism. Just as my countrymen had remained strong in the face of terrorism, they held firm against the siren song of venomous populism. As the results of the ballot became clear, my eldest son leaned over and whispered into my ear: “It is in moments like these that it feels so good to be French.”
To be sure, as welcome as these results may be, we should not allow them to blind us to the message of the first round of balloting, in which the FN finished first in six of the country’s 13 regions. French voters are deeply disillusioned with the establishment. Since the 2012 presidential election, Le Pen has tripled her party’s popular support, attracting nearly seven million voters. And yet, as alarming as her rapid rise might be, there is much to be learned from her decisive defeat.
To begin with, the FN’s effort to present itself as a normal political party has failed. Despite Le Pen’s attempts to soften its tone and broaden its appeal, shedding – at least formally – its anti-Semitic elements, the party continues to be perceived as a risk by a majority of French voters.