PARIS—Marine Le Pen, 48, who could very possibly be the next president of France, speaks positively but with a certain reserve about U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump. It’s the kind of hesitation one hears when someone talks about a potential ally or partner who might, just might, be crazy. Because Trump does give that impression in Europe and, whatever one might say about her, Le Pen does not.
So, for all the general approbation she’s expressed about Trump’s election, and all the nice things Trump counselor Stephen Bannon has said about her Front National party, and especially about her comely young niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (“Europe’s New Rock Star of the Right,” as Breitbart headlined), according to Marine Le Pen, “nobody” in her party “has had relations … with Mr. Bannon or any other member of the provisional administration of Donald Trump.”
In fact, the mention of her niece and Bannon seemed to set Marine Le Pen off her stride. There are some figures in the Front National, she said, who have longstanding ties to a few Republican leaders, but not exactly to Trump. “Me, I… I …” she said, hesitating and calculating, “I think that these relations will deepen when I will have been elected president.”
So Trump, Bannon, and her niece seem to be points of some confusion for Marine Le Pen. But in an hour-long conference with the Anglo-American Press Association here which ignored almost entirely the likely opponents she will face in the French presidential elections next April, there were two figures she spoke about with perfect clarity: Hillary Clinton, who seems to represent everything she hates; and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to be able to do no wrong. Indeed, she often seemed to be reciting Kremlin talking points.
Asked whether Russian cyber espionage and hacking might pose a threat to French elections, Marine Le Pen turned the question to a vitriolic diatribe describing Clinton as the chouchou—the pet or darling—of all the interests Le Pen claims to be fighting.
The cyber attack scenarios sketched by the American intelligence community are hypotheses about nefarious plots that sound like old diatribes in which “whenever something bad happens the Russians are the reason,” said Le Pen.
There may be some facts involved, she suggested, but she meant the ones that were filtered out through WikiLeaks, according to the American intelligence establishment, after being leaked to Australian anarchist Julian Assange by Russian intermediaries. Specifically, her references were to materials that turned up in the hacked emails of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.
“One can’t say that the people who carried out the cyber attacks brought about the election of Mr. Trump,” said Le Pen. “What might possibly have brought about the election of Monsieur Trump is the revelation of Madame Hillary Clinton’s deepest thoughts, and the commitments she made to some of the great financial powers, and that’s what it’s about.”
Le Pen said she finds it “stunning” that the Americans would be trying to teach a lesson about dirty tricks in cyber espionage given that “it was revealed”—by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now resident in Russia—“that the United States carried out illegal taps on virtually the entirety of the European leadership.”
“The least one can say,” said Le Pen, “is that is not a friendly act, and neither altogether respectable or worthy.”
So, as Le Pen put it, she feels “no misgiving at all” about Russian hacking having an impact on the French elections—and then she riffed on Clinton, saying the hacking story was just an excuse for the failure of “she who was the favorite—let’s say it, the chouchou of the system, the chouchou of the media, the chouchou of the global political class, the chouchou of those who are looking, precisely, to put in place this world government, the chouchou of the banks, the great multinationals.”
To blame the Russians because people voted against all that is “pathetic,” said Le Pen.
Nor should the Russians (Soviets) be blamed for the Cold War. As Le Pen recently told CNBC, the Americans started that. So, too, with the war in Ukraine: it all began because the European Union tried to turn Ukraine against Russia, then staged an illegal coup, then, backed by the United States, set up an anti-Russian government in a country where “we all know” part looks East and part looks West.
Nor should Putin be blamed for the slaughter in Syria, because, “we all know,” as Le Pen told the Anglo-American Press Association on Friday, that there is no “moderate” opposition to the Assad regime there. Russia, France, and the United States need to unite against the really big threat, Islamic Fundamentalism.
And so on.
Did it matter, she was asked, that she had gotten financing for her campaign from a Russian bank? Her answer: no French bank would finance the campaign, which is true, and when you get a loan from a bank it doesn’t control your life, you just have to pay it back.
Le Pen is smart, capable, articulate, and when she talks about France her combination of nationalism and socialism may very well take her to victory in the second presidential round in May.
Listening to Le Pen talk about the United States and Russia, one came away with the impression she has learned the talking points well—much better and in much more detail than Trump.
The only moment she seemed off balance was when we mentioned her niece, Marion, who has sided with her father, Jean-Marie, who founded the Front National and spent years playing the press with feints at fascist rhetoric. Marine, looking for a broader constituency, expelled him from the party and at least since then her relations with “Rock Star” Marion are said to be testy. The internal feuding in the Front National is the talk of the town.
Ironically, for all of Marine Le Pen’s skill at mobilizing a large part of the French electorate, her enumeration of Clinton’s sins, and her photographic memory of Russia’s virtues, her family feuds may be her party’s fatal flaw.
That’s a common analysis in France these days.
But, like the common analyses before Brexit and before Trump, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.