The National Front’s inability to seize the moment stems, in large part, from a raft of internal contradictions. Some of the party’s most prominent members claim to be devoted to the welfare state; others see it, at best, as a necessary evil. Some are secular and favor gay rights; others are proud, “family values” Christians. Today, its big tent is being stretched to the limit—if not already showing signs of tear.
Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the FN’s identity crisis than the departure of Florian Philippot, the party’s former vice president and national spokesperson. He had embodied the FN’s “de-demonization” strategy—less racism and xenophobia, more education, healthcare and progressive economics. A graduate of the prestigious École Nationale d’Administration, he joined the FN in 2011, working with Le Pen to refine its critiques of globalization and reframe French politics as a clash between “globalists” and “patriots.” Electoral success followed, thanks largely to low-income voters, many of them from former bastions of the left. In the first round of the 2017 presidential election, Le Pen won more support from working-class voters than any other candidate, according to an Ipsos poll.
“Compared to the old platform of the Front, which was much more [economically] liberal, we were more focused on a defense of the forgotten France, of public services, of low-income earners and retirees, of re-industrialization,” Philippot told me when we met at his office in Strasbourg last fall.