After winning the first round on 23 April with 24.1 per cent, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist independent candidate and favourite in the French presidential election, did not have a great week. Off to face hard right candidate Marine Le Pen (21.3 per cent) in the second round on 7 May, his campaign hit a series of mismanagements.
He celebrated his first round victory with A-listers at La Rotonde, a shiny Parisian bistro, seemingly underlining the “elite” image Le Pen has worked hard to give him. He then suggested that François Hollande’s former prime minister Manuel Valls could join his cabinet if he left the Socialist party, which did not exactly help, as Valls is mostly remembered – and hated – for enforcing a permanent state of emergency and several laws without consulting parliament. Finally, and it announced the duel to come, he visited Whirlpool’s kitchen hardware factory in his native Amiens, where he spent an hour talking to the crowds of workers furious at his globalist stance. Le Pen then showed up by surprise and collected cheers. Overall, Emmanuel Macron spent most of the crucial two weeks between the rounds trying to bring French voters to support his project, instead of rallying them against the threat of Le Pen’s National Front.
So odds seemed against him last night, as the last TV debate between the two finalists was broadcast four days before the vote. As the debate began and Marine Le Pen cheered him with a “Mr Minister” and various other “candidate of globalism”, Macron composed himself as the adult in the room. Polls, that put him as the winner of the debate, now credit him with 61 per cent of the vote in the second round against le Pen’s 39 per cent.
He responded to her grins with a patience that would have been welcomed earlier in the campaign – in previous debates, he often looked like he was trying too hard. But it was now Le Pen who was doing too much. She painted him as the candidate of everything her voters abhor – Europe, banks, globalism, the Euro – and attacked his record as a minister for Hollande’s cabinet at every opportunity, including referring to decisions that had been taken after he had resigned. She used every minute to link Macron to the incumbent president, until her very last words. As Macron was delivering his conclusion, Le Pen chanted: “Hollande! Just like Hollande!” one more time.
This GIF became the debate’s most memorable moment.
A furious Macron responded by doubling down on policies. He hit his target on the Euro, which Le Pen promises to ditch and return to a local currency. She had nothing to answer when he accused her to risk French economic competitiveness. “You are going to devalue the Franc and France will lose competitiveness,” Macron said. “No, it won’t, we will gain in competitiveness,” Le Pen replied. But as she used most of her time to provoke him, she did not explain how this would work out.
Marine Le Pen did not look presidential, but she never intended to. As she gesticulated and openly mocked Macron’s polished answers, Le Pen has set the trend she will likely follow for the next five years if he wins. Macron and Le Pen are political opposites – with the right divided over supporting her and the Socialists in disarray, she will be embodying the strongest opposition to President Macron.