French voters say ‘non’ to Trump in conservative primary
© Joseph Bamat

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE’s victory in the U.S. presidential election has shocked and baffled leaders and ordinary citizens across the planet, and in France it’s no different. What is different here is that the country will hold its own presidential election in only five months, and candidates and voters must consider the upcoming political contest in light of Trump’s triumph across the pond.

The main fear for many French voters is that Trump’s presidency heralds the rise of a similar populist candidate, promising to crack down on immigrants and wreak havoc on the establishment: namely far-right leader Marine Le Pen. On Saturday, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters marched at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. “No Trump, No Le Pen, No Wilders” read several signs, drawing direct parallels between the New York billionaire and Europe’s far-right figureheads.

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While Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-European Union party has prospered in recent years, the commonly held belief was that French ideals, or at least the electoral system, would prevent her from ever reaching the country’s highest office.

But in the wake of Trump’s win, and the earlier Brexit shock, French people are now warning each other tout est possible — anything is possible. 

Le Pen herself is acutely aware that winds of change appear to be blowing in her favor. She was the first French leader to congratulate Trump, telling her followers on Twitter that the result of the U.S. election meant “good news for our country.” 

It’s not just liberal protesters who are worried about a Trump effect. The U.S. president-elect dominated France’s final conservative presidential primary debate last week, which more than 5 million people tuned in to watch. It was an ideal opportunity to exploit voter fears.

French MP Jean-François Copé declared it was “clear that Trump won thanks to the cumulative failures of Bush and Obama,” adding that he was concerned Le Pen would rise to power on the failures of former French president — and primary rival — Nicolas Sarkozy.

MP Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet called out Trump on the debate stage, saying his “sexist, racist, homophobic” remarks would not become acceptable just because he had been elected. Kosciusko-Morizet, like all the other presidential hopefuls that night, nevertheless admitted she would have to work with the future president of the world’s first power.

In what could soon become a mantra among leaders around the planet, Sarkozy said Trump’s new brand of protectionism would nevertheless require reciprocal measures from the EU.

Former Prime Minister François Fillon on Sunday emerged victorious from the first round of voting in that conservative primary. After an unexpected landslide, he is now the favorite in next weekend’s run-off poll and is in the best position to become France’s next president.

An affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be a trait common to both Fillon and Trump, but little else brings the two men together. Trump dissenters around the world may thus take heart to Fillon’s political surge in France. Conservative voters here chose a candidate who represents the establishment. They chose a candidate whose campaign focused on the economy, not on identity politics and immigrant scapegoating. They chose a candidate whose trademark is a cool head and an even temper.

Trump’s election has indeed sent shockwaves through France, but if the country’s conservative primary is any indication of the national mood, Trump is not what French voters want.

 

Joseph Bamat is a Paris-based journalist with the international news channel FRANCE 24. He is covering France’s 2017 presidential elections. You can follow him on Twitter @josephbamat.


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