French far-right chief is under fire for her mainstream turn

Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader, is being criticized for making her party too mainstream and dulling its extremist edge. Others warn that this could lead to her losing votes in next year’s presidential race.

After the failure of the National Rally in regional elections a week prior, the rumblings intensified just before this weekend’s party congress.

Le Pen is the unquestioned leader of the anti-immigration party, and her fortunes won’t change at the two day event in Perpignan in southwest France hosted by Louis Aliot, Le Pen’s former partner and, above all the, the party’s top performer in the last year’s municipal elections. There could be a difficult reckoning as Le Pen tries to infuse new energy into the National Rally.

Critics claim that Le Pen tried to make her party more appealing to the mainstream right by removing its anti-establishment sign. She softened the edges of her party and tried to erase the antisemitism and racism that had clung to it for decades under Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father. She changed the party’s name to National Front. Her father was the co-founder of the party and led it for 40 years.

Jean-Marie Le Pen stated that the “policy of adapting, or rapprochement, with power, even with ordinary right was severely sanctioned.” He said that “(That) was an electoral error and translates into an electoral fail and maybe electoral failures.” He was referring to the results of the 2022 regional election and the presidential vote.

In an effort to improve the party’s respectability the patriarch was expelled at 93. However, his criticism mirrors that of moderate members who claim his daughter has misunderstood the message.

She hopes to make it to the presidential runoff in 10 months, with more success than 2017 when she lost to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

National Rally candidates, including many who were originally from the mainstream right, failed to win in all 12 French regions in elections last Sunday. The results were marred by record-high abstention and only one third of voters casting ballots. According to polls, the party, which has never governed a region, was expected to win at least one. It lost almost a third of its regional councilors in the vote deemed crucial to planting local roots for the presidential race, something that some feel has been neglected.

Romain Lopez, mayor in the small town of Moissac in southwest France, stated that “it’s local elections which are the launchpad for the rocket” that could take Marine Le Pen from the presidential palace. “Today we look like eternal seconds. This can… mobilize the National Rally electorate to the presidential elections.

Some local representatives have resigned following the defeat of regional elections, including Bruno Lerognon, the delegate for southern Herault.

Lerognon posted a bitter Facebook letter blasting his boss’ strategy of attracting voters from other parties. He claimed that members of the party’s local federation were being “odiously treated” and had been removed from the race for the regional elections to favor outsiders. Cronyism had “rotted the local far-right scene,” he wrote. He was referring to the long-standing criticisms of the National Rally’s power clans whose voices are decisive. He was replaced by Le Pen a day later.

All four members of a small, local federation in western France resigned during rounds of regional elections. None of them were on the local electoral lists. They claimed that they were “pushed aside” by higher-ups elsewhere. They lamented a “losing approach” that was born at the Lille party Congress in 2018, when Le Pen proposed changing the name of the party and severed all ties with her father.

Gilbert Collard, a European Parliament lawmaker, is a party figure with a national reputation. He has criticised the strategy of opening up for “a trap” and said that he will not attend the congress.

Lopez, Moissac’s mayor, will be present to hear from those with complaints.

Lopez, 31 years old, is a supporter of Le Pen’s outreach and credit his broad appeal to voters for his victory last year in an upset for the former leftist town.

Lopez stated that the party hierarchy is not connected to its local, but still vital, bases. Lopez stated that national officials treat local representatives as children and impose all communication, building a campaign, and communications. Lopez said that by imposing everything from top, you create a national strategy “that is disconnected from the reality in each region or town.”

Although he isn’t sure if the party will allow local officials to speak time beyond his five minutes at a roundtable meeting, he hopes to be heard.

He said, “When you are in self-satisfaction and refuse to see imperfections, you go straight to the wall.”

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