Coincidentally she’s also the preferred candidate of Vladimir Putin, who correctly sees in her victory not just the end of the European Union but potentially the end of NATO. His bet on Trump during the campaign hasn’t paid off for him (so far). A bet on Le Pen, replete with interference on her behalf, is a surer thing.
Trump was careful today to say he’s not formally endorsing her, knowing how that would irritate the French establishment and potentially some undecided French voters, but this is an endorsement in everything but name.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump said that while he is not explicitly endorsing Le Pen, the [Paris] attack [yesterday] played to her strengths.
“She’s the strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” Trump said in the Oval Office interview. “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”…
U.S. presidents typically avoid weighing in on specific candidates running in overseas election. But Trump suggested his opinion was no different from an average observer, saying, “Everybody is making predictions on who is going to win. I’m no different than you.”
I’m pretty sure his opinion counts differently than an AP reporter’s, especially when it’s published two days before the French vote. Anyway, for all of the hype lately about Steve Bannon being marginalized in the White House, this is a solid victory for him. Bannon is a Le Pen admirer and has been candid about wanting to see the nationalist tide in the U.S. and UK sweep across Europe. It’s been rough sledding lately, though, with the poor performance of Geert Wilders’s party in the Dutch elections last month and the decline of the AfD in Germany, which has been tanking in recent polls. By back-patting the National Front, Trump’s giving his nationalist base a boost and clawing back some of the credibility he’s lost with them over the last few weeks as Kushner and Cohn have nudged Bannon aside for influence.
At a minimum, nationalists want Le Pen in the top two on Sunday, which will advance her to the national runoff in two weeks. The worst-case scenario for them is that she misses the cut; the best-case is that she faces off with communist Jean-Luc Melenchon, another Putin admirer whose radicalism might push centrists into Le Pen’s camp and make her president. If her opponent is either of the two centrist candidates, Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon, she’s expected to lose but stands a chance. So who’s the favorite? Errrrrr, no one knows. The polls have been absurdly even for weeks, with Macron and Le Pen around 22-23 percent apiece and Fillion and Melenchon a few points back in the 19-20 range. Given the margin of error, any two of the four could end up in the runoff. On top of that, data nerds suspect that French pollsters are “herding” their results, i.e. fiddling with their assumptions to make their numbers more closely resemble their competitors’ because they’re worried about publishing data that looks like an outlier. Put all of that together and there’s no telling, really, who’s winning. PredictWise currently has Macron as a 56 percent favorite to become president with Le Pen next at 20 percent, but why they have any faith in the polling under the circumstances, I have no idea.
Another question: What effect might Trump’s quasi-endorsement have on Le Pen’s chances? Nationalists there may be cheered by support from nationalists here, just as the reverse is true, but what about the wider French electorate? A poll taken early last October, about a month before the U.S. voted, found that 86 percent of French citizens wanted Clinton to win versus 11 percent who preferred Trump. A few weeks later, a YouGov poll put the split at 62/9, with five percent saying they thought Trump would be a “good” or “great” president and 69 percent saying he’d be “poor” or “terrible.” There’s serious backlash potential to his warm words for Le Pen — if the French get to hear about it. By law, French media is required to black out election news beginning at midnight tonight until the votes are counted on Sunday. Apparently Trump’s words are already being reported on some French news sites, but not everyone may find out before the first round of voting. Then again, hadn’t all interested parties already guessed which way he’s leaning? And if you’re a French voter, would that matter to you more than, say, who’ll best handle terrorism after Thursday’s Paris attack?
Here’s a gassy little video fart that Macron, the centrist independent, posted to Twitter yesterday. Looks like we’ve got ourselves an honest-to-goodness proxy war between the current and former U.S. administrations. As of last June, 84 percent of French citizens said they had confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) April 20, 2017