Next week French voters go to the polls in the first round of a Presidential election. One candidate, Marine Le Pen, is drawing much of the attention.. and concern. She's campaigning in a style, and on the issues, that brought President Trump to the White House. Her campaign promise is to put France First. And that, is what is worrying much of the rest of Europe. We sent Scott Thuman to examine the political rise of the populist Le Pen.
Scott Thuman: The star power on this stage in France, with all the fireworks and frenzy, is a woman positioning to become the country’s next president...and the symbol of a movement hardly limited to this jam-packed arena.
Marine Le Pen: If we choose our nation as I’m offering you to do, it’s all together, all united, that we will confront challenges of globalization, of Islamism, and of terrorism. It’s the only way to stand up again, to be great again, and to freedom and for all of you it’s the way to happiness.
Scott Thuman: 48 year old-Marine Le Pen...is drawing these boisterous crowds, not just by speaking but, equally, by listening. Her supporters, often chanting a loosely translated, ‘this is our home’ feel they’ve been forgotten by the current body politic...and it’s Le Pen, who is fueling enthusiasm for the first time, in a long time.
Scott Thuman: Do you think the French have been losing their culture, you’ve been losing that-
Pierre Martin: Yes, yes.
Scott Thuman: And you’re trying to regain it is what you’re saying?
Pierre Martin: The brightness of France all over the world is shut down. You know? All over the world.
Scott Thuman: In a nation where many are desperately clinging to a fleeting-French way of life, a society of sidewalk cafes and romantic nostalgia...Le Pen and the National Front is making nationalism, their primary goal. For many French, the changes from the -outside-, don’t sit well.
Marine Le Pen: While we destroyed national borders we are forced to build new ones inside our country. You ladies and gentlemen, as individuals, have experienced it because now you need fences around your house higher and higher. Armored doors, more and more resistance, keys, passwords, alarm systems, yes! Walls that we don’t have outside anymore to protect us collectively, we now have to build them inside to protect us individually. We see it, border is a way to protect us as a nation. Where the nation can live peacefully.”
Scott Thuman: This populist movement,may sound familiar to many Americans. Though Le Pen’s preferences go beyond closing borders...she’d like to see any outward religious expressions, outlawed...from burkas to yarmulkes & is pushing for France’s own version of something seen recently, in Great Britain.
Scott Thuman: If she were to become President, if she wins, what is the first thing you want her to do?
Pierre Martin: Frexit.
Pierre Martin: Frexit.
Scott Thuman: The French version of Brexit, get out?
Pierre Martin: Yes, because all the uh, all the, the candidates, says we are to make French great again, like Trump and uh, and here, we are fighting for, uh, our job. You know?”
Scott Thuman: Getting out would mean a withdrawal from the 28-member European Union to gain independence when it comes to currency, trade & border control. It could also threaten the future of the E.U.
Scott Thuman: Marine Le Pen paints a pretty dark picture, of the future sometimes doesn’t she?
Nonna Mayer: Well that’s her idea. If you play on the fears...of voters, the idea is we are the only party that offers the protection. She has framed globalization as a triple threat. It’s an economic threat: look...they are going to steal your job--all these immigrants! It’s a cultural threat. There are threats for values our French culture and identity. And it’s a political threat. Our decisions now are not taken by the national government it’s the end of the sovereign nation state so that’s how she paints the future. And what she says is, but if you vote for us, that’ will stop. We are going to close the borders and w will go back to the golden age as France was before.
Scott Thuman: Nonna Mayer has been studying Le Pen and her surging National Front political party for years. She says for many voters, it’s become a last resort.
Scott Thuman: She’s seen as a real hero by many, isn’t she?
Nonna Mayer: It depends on what you call a hero but at least she in a world where there’s distrust in the political class she’s maybe the last one to say, ‘we can do it’. She promises something, she said look, you’ve tried the right. You’ve tried the left. They’ve governed together and they’ve failed. Why don’t you try us?
Scott Thuman: But getting to the big stage, and lead in early polls, hasn’t been easy. The NF’s success meant Le Pen, would kick out the party’s founder...who also happens to be her father. Jean Marie Le Pen. The two, no longer speak. She’s more aligned with her niece, the also highly polarizing politician, Marion Marechel Le Pen, who we interviewed last year in Paris.
Marion Marechal Le Pen: I would like to remind that France is the Europe's leading exporter of ISIS soldiers that underlines a malaise. Don't bury your head in the sand. The areas with the higher immigration rates are the areas with a strong insecurity. This immigration policy has failed. We have to stop burying our head in the sand because of the right thinking.
Scott Thuman: The recent spate of terror attacks in Paris & across Europe & the sometimes chaotic environment brought by an influx of refugees, has created a perfect storm from which Le Pen, strikes a chord, with the fed up French voters.
Marine Le Pen: The democratic uprising of people is going on...in the US and Great Britain and Italy, in India and eventually, everywhere in the world. Patriots are speaking the same language.
Scott: she promotes the idea of closed borders, you think that’;s a good idea?
Man at rally: Many problems with borders because many immigrants come in France.
Scott: And you want to stop that?
Man at rally: Yes. I want it to stop.
Scott Thuman: You want to close the borders?
Man at rally: Yes, yes. Close the borders.
Scott Thuman: You would like out of the European Union?
Woman at rally: Yes. I would. I would go against, I would say no, we don’t want to stay.
Scott Thuman: Le Pen supporters say while a loss would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be devastating because they believe, the ideas of the National Front are contagious and will carry on, well beyond this election.
Front National Party Member: The Front National already lost a lot of battles in the past. We know what losing means... and our supporters are growing in number every year. Our biggest challenge is to change vote habits. The intellectual battle, the battle of convictions we already won it. In the minds of French people, our ideas are predominant.
Scott Thuman: We have a phrase sometimes used in Washington when people want to get rid of the current government, they say, throw the bums out
Nonna Mayer: We have the same expression in France, they say sortie le out with the in! And that’s a strong drive in the support for the Front Nacional. Today in France you have something like 79% of the citizens consider that the political class doesn’t care what people like me think. You have 3 out of 4 consider that the political class is corrupt. So there is the temptation to say, out with them all! But that’s not enough.
Scott Thuman: Despite according to pollsters, difficult odds for Le Pen & her party, her supporters believe change is not only in the air, it is now inevitable. So this election in France could foretell ballot-casting across the rest of Europe & if populism is to truly take hold, or has hit its own wall.
Nonna Mayer: 58 percent as of a few weeks ago in the polls, say her party is a danger for democracy, and that’s the first flaw. And the second flaw but maybe Trump it’s the same, is that she’s not really capable of being president of the republic.
Marine Le Pen: To those who think that France has done her time I say the time coming is her time. Time of her great return. I offer you to come back to pride. being proud of our history, being proud of what we are, being proud of the France we’re gonna leave to our children.
Many who support and plan to vote for Le Pen say they have friends who feel the same way but won't voice that publicly, for fear of being criticized. I remember hearing similar sentiments here in the states in places like Eau Claire Wisconsin & Selma North Carolina, from Donald Trump supporters. The latest polls have her still in the lead but the race is tightening.