The odds of Marine Le Pen continuing this year in France the political trends set by Britain, America and Italy in 2016 are becoming less and less promising.
To win the French Presidency Le Pen must capture the votes of at least three quarters of the mainstream French right, hold reliably FN voters, and make inroads among the traditionally Socialist French working class.
These goals may have been attainable against a Socialist opponent in France’s two way runoff. Unfortunately for her, sitting President Hollande will leave office with the worst presidential ratings since WWII and his Socialist Party lying in ruins. With the Socialists having no hope of surviving to the second round (for very well-deserved reasons), the runoff is set to be contested between the French mainstream right and Le Pen’s Nationalist Conservatives.
The standard bearer of the centre-right is François Fillon; against him Le Pen has little hope of achieving her above mentioned voting targets primarily because Fillon is satisfactory to most mainstream conservatives: Small town and rural Catholics have responded positively to his religious conservatism; or what qualifies in France as religious conservatism, anway. Though not as conservative on immigration as Le Pen, his calls for greater security and immigration reductions should spare him being outflanked on this issue. And his willingness to open France to more free market competition has been met with relief by a traumatized French business class, who do, in fact, exist despite their being under a near constant state of political siege since 1789.
The only area where Le Pen may be able to draw a clear contrast between herself and Fillon is on the euro. But her opposition to the euro by itself may be insufficient if Fillon stays right on immigration.
If Le Pen cannot make significant inroads with Fillon’s mainstream base she will be quite unlikely to make up the difference with votes from the Left.
However, a victory by Fillon will be of little help to the Left’s hopes of turning back the populist tide. The useful lesson Fillon will have made to mainstream conservatives elsewhere hoping to survive anti-establishment anger is that to survive the centre-right must strike to the right on immigration. But unlike the centre-right, Fillon’s Catholicism, nods to immigration restriction, and relative support of Capitalism will hardly be something the Left could model itself around even theoretically.