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And I thought American politics was a mess …

Last Sunday’s French elections made their Yankee counterparts appear almost tame by comparison. Neither of the two major parties made the May 7th runoff. The sitting government’s party finished fifth.

So now we’re left between the ostensibly “far-right” national front leader, Marine Le Pen, and the 39 year-old newcomer to elective politics, Emmanuel Macron. Macron is widely seen in the press as a heavy favorite because he was endorsed by the establishment party leaders and most of the French Party leaders. Furthermore, polling appears to give him about a 20-point lead. I would caution Macron’s supporters not to get ahead of themselves. Macron is genuinely the favorite to win, but I believe he’s only a slight favorite.

Macron is seen has the darling of the establishment even though he has never run a political campaign before. It is more a sign of the establishment’s fear of Le Pen then it is of any particular accomplishment or qualifications of its chosen savior. He appears to be playing the role of a Francophone Jared Kushner to Le Pen’s Steve Bannon.

The French press refers to Macron as a “centrist”, but I’m not sure that is an accurate rendition of the man. He was Finance Minister for the widely unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Yes, he wound up quitting Hollande’s government. But a true Centrist never would have been hired in the first place. Again, it appears to be an establishment attempt to bolster the only person standing between them and a President Le Pen. I suspect people outside of Paris may resent being told what to think. They see a 39 year-old kid, really (the French tend to prefer older Presidents – DeGaulle, d’Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac come to mind), being hailed as an especially talented leader, because he is opposing the candidate who is aiming her message at those left behind by Paris.

I know little of Le Pen other than her party’s deep unpopularity within European capitals and her hardline stand on immigration, and I have no dog in this fight. If I were French, I suppose I might supported the center-right candidate Francois Fillon before the hiring scandal emerged; after that I was politically agnostic. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie before – the cycle of populist support leading to elitist alarm which only encourages further populist support. The more the leaders of neighboring countries and urban elites in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse express fear and loathing of Le Pen, the more those who resent those foreign leaders and major city dwellers will move to her. This race isn’t a toss-up – as of today, it favors Macron – but it’s not the the 2002 Chirac-LePen race (where Chirac got 82%) either. That one was over as soon as it started. This race still breathes.

– 1TF

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