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Le Pen Loses Luster, Signaling Far Right’s Retreat in France, and Maybe Beyond

But there is wide agreement that the Front’s problems go way beyond poor turnout. Ms. Le Pen revealed herself to be a flawed messenger for an incoherent message, even to her own supporters, in a disastrous televised debate in May with Mr. Macron, during the presidential race.

Voters were “troubled by her bad performance in the debate,” said a leading French political scientist, Pascal Perrineau. As a result, “one part of the electorate is asking, ‘Can we really have confidence in her?’” Mr. Perrineau said. “She has really lost a lot of ground.”

In part, her fumbling reflected the National Front’s deep ideological divide into at least two factions, with Ms. Le Pen an uncertain arbiter between them.

One faction insists the party needs to pursue the leftward, anticapitalist, protectionist, anti-European and anti-euro drift that Ms. Le Pen tried to push during the race, in an attempt to take voters from the Communists, Socialists and far-left France Unbowed party.

That is the line of Ms. Le Pen’s top lieutenant and strategist, Florian Philippot, who is widely hated within the party. He is a man whose political roots are on the French left and is credited by analysts with the Front’s steady electoral advances since 2011.

Another faction argues that it is madness for the Front to neglect its immigrant-bashing, xenophobic roots — the line established by Ms. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been virtually excommunicated from the party, and incarnated by Ms. Le Pen’s ultraconservative niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. She is stepping down from one of the two seats in Parliament currently held by the National Front, in part because she disagrees with her aunt.

“We’ve renounced our position of being the nationalist party of the right,” said Pascal Gannat, a Front veteran who is a member of the party’s political bureau, in a recent telephone interview. “So this has created a vacuum. And nor have we fulfilled our role on the left.”

“We’ve got to redefine populism. We have to define for ourselves,” he said. “Marine Le Pen was afraid of defining herself as of the right.”

“For the moment, we’re stuck” he added. “I don’t know what she wants to do. But she needs to do something. She’s blocking the Front, in some kind of archaic strategy.”

Source: NYT > World

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