Family Feud

Why Is Old Man Le Pen So Mean to Marine?

Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front, and led it to a huge defeat in 2002’s presidential election. His daughter did better, and he wants to humiliate her.

PARIS—So much for family loyalty.

On the eve of Sunday’s presidential election, hours before his daughter was roundly defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested that his heir “wasn’t fit to be president.”

“She has character; she doesn’t lack that,” Le Pen, 88, told The Sunday Times. “But you also need other qualities.”

This wasn’t the first time the elder Le Pen dissed his daughter’s Élysée Palace aspirations. Following her victory in the first round of voting two weeks prior, old man Le Pen told French radio station France Inter that Marine’s campaign efforts were too relaxed, and had he been at the helm, he would have taken a more Trumpian approach.

“I think her campaign was too laid-back,” he said. “If I’d been in her place I would have had a Trump-like campaign, a more open one, very aggressive against those responsible for the decadence of our country, whether left or right.”

That Marine Le Pen had been an open admirer of Donald Trump even before he reached the White House made the jab all the nastier.

And, again, just hours after her defeat at the polls on Sunday, the octogenarian was at it again, telling radio station RTL that the party’s director-general, Florian Philippot, was to blame for her failure, and that the younger Le Pen should have focused less on talk about leaving the European Union and more on France’s “real problems” like mass immigration.

One might imagine that Marine finds Jean-Marie Le Pen’s hostility baffling. Or, maybe for her, not so much. Although he has long been known for his abrasive, sometimes incendiary rhetoric, viewed from afar his recent treatment of Marine would appear to take his mean-spiritedness to another level.

But family ties aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. (Think of, oh, Game of Thrones.) And in the Le Pen family whatever tensions were boiling beneath the surface emerged two years ago when Marine ousted Jean-Marie from the party he founded.

Having taken the reins from her father in 2011, Marine Le Pen was on a mission to clean up the National Front’s intolerant race-baiting, Jew-baiting image and broaden its appeal. The only problem was that dad wouldn’t shut up.

Jean-Marie continued spewing hateful remarks that undermined his daughter’s mission to bring the National Front into the mainstream and she knew it. So in 2015, after a series of provocative declarations about Nazi gas chambers (which the elder Le Pen likes to refer to as “a detail of history”) Marine showed him the door.

Indeed, tensions between father and daughter reportedly had been brewing for months. About six months prior to booting him out of the party, Marine moved out of the family estate near Paris because Jean-Marie’s Doberman ate her cat—a fitting metaphor for a family feud that was growing increasingly vicious. His very public ousting, coupled with Marine’s statement to journalists that he should “no longer be able to speak in the name of the National Front” widened the rift.

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Upon hearing the news, Jean-Marie disowned his daughter, calling his expulsion a “betrayal,” and suggesting that such a move indicated that she lacked the principles to run the country. The elder Le Pen has been stewing about his removal ever since, even likening it to the Greek classic Oedipus Rex, in which the protagonist kills his own father.

“Ingratitude is the order of the day,” he told The Sunday Times, claiming that Marine had never replied to the congratulatory email he had sent her after her strong second-place finish in the election’s first round.

Le Pen also praised his granddaughter (Marine’s niece), Marion-Marechal Le Pen, 27, a charismatic National Front legislator, seen by many as the person who would take the party’s helm. But just a couple of days later, Marion-Marechal Le Pen announced that she was quitting politics, leaving insiders questioning the National Front’s future and angering the prickly former patriarch once again. Jean-Marie called her retirement “a desertion.”

On Thursday he was quoted in the daily Le Parisien saying his granddaughter’s departure could cost the National Front crucial seats in the upcoming legislative elections. The loss of its rising star could also hurt his estranged daughter, he said.

“It could cost Marine dearly,” he told the paper, adding that she “made mistakes” in her campaign by excluding him. He also said that he had sent his daughter a congratulatory message on the evening of the second round of voting (the same day he had suggested to journalists that she didn’t have the chops to run France), but she never replied to that message either.

Could jealousy be a factor in this? Marine may not have won the presidency, but she garnered far more votes for the party than it had ever had before. She was defeated by 65 percent. Jean-Marie, when he got to the second round of the 2002 presidential election by a fluke wound up defeated by 82 percent.

Today, while the National Front’s future is uncertain, the Le Pen feud seems set to continue.