French Ruling Elites Reeling From Election Results

For a long time, French President Emmanuel Macron’s message and that of his allies has been: Be afraid, be very afraid of the nationalist right. Now, in one of the biggest and perhaps last political miscalculations of his checkered career, Macron’s call for snap parliamentary elections three weeks ago has ended in a career-crushing humiliation. It is the French equivalent of Brexit.

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The wound was self-inflicted political hubris of a historic level. Three weeks ago, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party made major gains in elections for the European Parliament. Macron, perhaps seeing the world from his cosmopolitan Paris bubble, risked his parliamentary majority to show the world who was boss. His hope was that French voters would repudiate the Right and back him in an open fight with the French equivalent of the “deplorables.”

Instead, voters repudiated Macron. Not only did voters not reject Le Pen, but Macron also landed his supporters in third place. Macron’s designated party heir to the presidency has resigned as prime minister. Macron’s internationalist dreams linking France to an ever more united Europe, the Ukraine War, NATO, environmental accords, inflation, and lax immigration policies are as out of style with voters as last year’s Paris fashions. His attempt to fill the power vacuum that President Biden created in Europe is also over.

In an election map equivalent to a red state/blue city map of the United States, the elites who look down on Le Pen and her voters were in for a shock. In Frances’s small towns, villages, and cities, an army of voters was anxious to “throw the bums out.” Exit polling showed Le Pen captured the Catholic vote and a majority of religious voters, including Muslims and Jews. She also captured farm, blue-collar, unemployed, and retired voters. Her party even captured a district that had voted Communist since 1962. The times they are a-changing. 

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In 2017, Macron’s party had 350 seats. It is now likely down to fewer than 100. Macron’s response was a stunned silence on election night. He did not address voters after a recent high 67% voter turnout on the three continents where the departments of France vote. Unlike the United States, results were available within hours of the polls closing despite some vast geographic and time zone differences on the three continents where votes were counted. 

A second round of voting will follow, but there is little hope of a comeback for Macron, given his unpopularity. His party finished third in the first round with 22% of the vote. To come back from the grave will require an arcane series of alliances with strange political bedfellows indeed.

The big winner was Le Pen. National Rally won 34% of the vote, while the leftist Popular Front received 29%.

Related: The European Right Could Finally Be on the Verge of Breaking the Left-Wing Logjam

Macron’s party is scrambling to work out a deal with the leftists to create a “Stop Le Pen” movement, which may backfire even further than it did in 2022. Under the deal, each of the two Left party’s candidates who finished third in this round would step down and defer to the other party. The goal is to unite the Left for the second round of voting. Will hundreds of candidates agree to fall on their swords for Macron’s seemingly losing national cause? Or will they try to be the survivors in what may prove to be a sea change in the future of France? 

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Politicians are adept at seeing which way the wind is blowing. The Republicans who finished out of the money have said they will not block Le Pen, whose party has already won 37 seats outright with a majority of the vote. It is estimated she is poised to win between 200 and 300 seats in the next round of voting. It would be a divided government ahead for Macron in that case.

Somewhat mirroring party lines in the United States, those with advanced degrees, high incomes, no religious affiliation, and young people backed the Left in this first round of voting. The next round of voting will be next Sunday, July 7.

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