Emmanuel Macron’s resounding re-election victory in the French Presidential Election has potentially massive implications for Democrats in the US. Macron defeated far-right populist Marine Le Pen, whose ideology broadly resembles that of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Le Pen’s neo-fascism has found broader appeal in France over the last ten years than in the past and working class voters have begun swinging toward her. Marcon’s win also halts for now, the drift of major western countries toward right-wing populism.
It must be noted entering the most intense phase of campaigning four weeks ago, Macron’s approval rating was about the same, if not slightly lower than President Biden’s. But certainly the attachment of Le Pen with Vladimir Putin’s Russia hurt her, but similarly Macron shifting his rhetoric to the left the last two weeks (debunking the general theory among political operatives that you run to the middle to win) probably accounted for his spike from the polling of April 11 which had him 2-3 points ahead, to his comfortable double-digit victory.
We can look at Macron’s creation, the liberal La République En Marche! party as a model for party building though, it must be noted the complete collapse of Marcon’s former party, the Socialists and the emergence of a harder-left under Jean-Luc Mélenchon has made Marcon appear, a more centrist figure. Basically the broad coalition which backed Socialist Party candidates from 1958 to 2012 split in two by 2017, with liberals and many older socialists backing Macron and far leftists and younger socialists backing Mélenchon. Anyhow, the split in the left, which is far more complicated than the simple description I just gave it, is a topic for another time, let’s focus on Macron’s win over Le Pen.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know many of you who have followed me on Twitter the last five years know, for much of the time I have been disgusted with Macron tacking right and playing centrist. I have attacked his economic centrism (which would still be hard-left by US standards) and attempts to play ball with Putin. I’ve disliked his arms sales to bad actors and maybe this is personal, but hated his bromance with India’s Theocrat, Narendra Modi.
My disappointment in him, is no different than many more progressive Democrats have toward Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But these last two weeks, I have again seen the Macron I had so much hope for five years ago the progressive, fighting Macron, unafraid of fascists and willing to define a liberal European order.
While analysts have focused cynically on Macron’s reduced margin from his 2017 victory over LePen, the reality is after he imposed strict Covid measures (which worked, France has coped much better than Florida in this pandemic) and got saddled with the global inflationary spiral, any victory is encouraging for forces wishing to save democracy.
- Environment – By focusing on the environment, Macron was able to mollify enough of the left that was dissatisfied with his centrist economic policies. This is particularly important for Florida Democrats who seem to ignore these issues at various times and have even arguably ceded the water issue to Governor DeSantis. The flip side of this is DeSantis, a hardened ideologue and Orbánist has adroitly used water issues and Everglades protection as issues to moderate his image. DeSantis’ position on water this past legislative session was to the LEFT of many Democratic Senators. Macron’s strong positioning on Climate Change could also work in Florida, given Democrats have largely stopped talking about this issue outside of some select local elected officials.
- Retirement – Macron was able to win decisively with older French voters by stressing retirement savings and pensions as part of his manifesto. The Democrats continued struggles with senior voters seem to be down to an unwillingness to sharply articulate themselves on Health Care and retirement (hello Social Security!) related issues.
- Pan-Europeanism – The continued drift of the Democratic Party toward protectionism, a territory currently owned by the Alt-Right is worrying. Macron showed you could be aggressively for free trade, multilateralism and an interventionist foreign policy and win. Macron has also once again embraced immigration and taking in migrants.
- Covid- Macron’s strong actions on Covid worked. Democrats need to stop running from this. Look at Nikki Fried bragging about ripping her mask off. The base of those angry about France’s Covid policies were with Le Pen. Macron knew this and instead of trying to placate them, he owned what he had done.
- Kick a fascist in the teeth – Macron went on the offensive against Le Pen in a far more aggressive and direct way than Florida’s leading Democrats do against DeSantis. It worked. The spike the last two weeks from a 2-3 point lead to a 17 point win reflects the positive effect of this as well as Macron’s move leftward.
While some of these concepts may be more difficult to nail down in Florida and the US and obviously French politics isn’t American politics, Macron’s win gives us some important lessons. Liberal parties are struggling in the west right now, so Macron’s win is a shining light and an example of perhaps how fascism and right-wing populism can be beat back.