April 6, 2023 - 1:15pm

If Giorgia Meloni can become Prime Minister of Italy, then why can’t Marine Le Pen become President of France?

She’s already made it to the final round twice — even if she did lose to Emmanuel Macron both times. However, she can’t lose to him a third time because, after two terms, he’s not allowed to run again. So, assuming that Le Pen has another crack at the Élysée Palace, she won’t have to face her nemesis.

In fact, there’s a strong case that she’s now the leading candidate. It’s still early days, of course, but a shock poll from Ifop-Fiducial gives us an insight into the current state of play.

The pollster assumes that Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be the leading candidate of the Left — which he probably will. They also have Éric Zemmour running as Le Pen’s rival on the hard Right, and Laurent Wauquiez as the conservative candidate. But who will replace Macron as the centrist candidate? That’s the crucial question, but the answer is uncertain. To explore the possibilities, Ifop presents separate scenarios for the best-known Macron allies, namely Édouard Philippe, Bruno Le Maire, Gérald Darmanin and François Bayrou.

The results make grim reading for the Macronistes, because in all four scenarios Le Pen wins the first round. The worst case scenario is if Bayrou stands against her. The veteran centrist would get just 9% of the vote compared to a crushing 36% for Le Pen. Because of his crucial endorsement in the 2017 election, Bayrou can be seen as the midwife of the Macron project; but if he runs in 2027, he could be its undertaker.

Source: Europe Elects

The best case scenario for the centrists is if they go with Philippe. The former prime minister would limit Le Pen to 29% of the vote — and, better still, he’d be the runner-up, thus advancing to the second round. In every other scenario the moderate candidates would be knocked out, leaving the political extremes to contest the presidency.

But French voters would surely hold their noses and vote for Mélenchon to stop Le Pen, wouldn’t they? Don’t bet the house on it. The Ifop polling reveals that there’s a sizeable floating vote between Le Pen and the Macronistes. Where it goes depends on who the latter choose as their new champion, but the underlying point is that a lot of so-called centrists would be fine with a hard Right president.

Source: Europe Elects

I suspect that millions of voters opted for Macron not because he’s a liberal, but because they saw him as the strongest leader. If in 2027 Le Pen can claim that mantle then she could put together a winning coalition. That’s especially the case if her second round opponent is a Corbynesque Leftie like Mélenchon.

That said, she could also beat a centrist in the run-off. The latest Elabe opinion poll shows her beating Macron himself with 55% to his 45%. Obviously, Le Pen is benefitting from the current wave of strikes and protests against the president’s pension reforms. But she’s doing it by standing aside while the pro- and anti-government forces tear each other to pieces. The greater the bitterness between the centrist and Leftist blocks, the less likely they are to unite against her.

As last year’s legislative elections made clear, the old cordon sanitaire that kept the hard Right from power is falling apart. That process is now accelerating. As a result, the Le Pens have never been nearer to victory.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.