A relentless war is raging between the president of the Rassemblement national (RN) Marine Le Pen, and the founder of the movement Reconquête former journalist Éric Zemmour, who has entered politics for the first time in 2021.
Both have to share the votes of the French national right camp. In recent weeks, the departures of personalities, once close to the RN, to Reconquête have intensified. On January 27th, Marine Le Pen’s own niece and former deputy of the Vaucluse department Marion Maréchal confided to the daily Le Parisien her temptation to join Éric Zemmour, and thus to return to politics, but this time as a force in opposition to her aunt and the party she leads. In particular, she is enticed to run again in the legislative elections to be held in June.
On Sunday, January 30th, the founder and patriarch of the family, Jean-Marie Le Pen, chose to speak out in this political-family feud. He spoke on the news channel LCI and gave his full support to Marine Le Pen, before meeting her to discuss the campaign. “Of course, I support my daughter who is the candidate of the Rassemblement national. It is quite natural,” he said.
This support was not necessarily self-evident. A long and painful conflict opposed Marine Le Pen to her father a few years ago. Marine Le Pen wanted to distance herself from the past statements of the founder of the Front National (now Rassemblement). The French political class and the media used to call his provocative statements, suspected of anti-Semitism, “dérapages.” Marine Le Pen has tried to break with this past and these polemical statements to give an image of responsibility to her party. The determined pursuit of this strategy had led her in August 2015 to exclude Jean-Marie Le Pen from the party he had founded—a decision against which Jean-Marie Le Pen had appealed, without success. This process of de-demonization or of normalization has its risks: by giving in to the temptation of a discourse more compatible with the dominant tone, does she not risk being less offensive and betraying her political mission? This is what many former members of the Front National, who have joined Zemmour’s party, reproach her for.
But today, much water has flowed under the bridge and seems to have washed away past resentments. Jean-Marie Le Pen does not hide the esteem he has for the polemicist Zemmour, whom he considers “nice,” but considers that Marine Le Pen is the best placed to win against Emmanuel Macron, which according to him must remain the ultimate goal of the national camp.
The old fighter is not shocked beyond measure by the “betrayals” that have weakened his daughter Marine in recent weeks. He has had to endure many of them in his career, and in particular that of his most loyal lieutenant, Bruno Mégret, who in 1999 slammed the door of the Front National, taking with him most of the party’s executives. This did not prevent Jean-Marie Le Pen from keeping most of the voters with him, and from reaching the second round of the presidential elections in 2002 against Jacques Chirac. The same Bruno Mégret is joining today the ranks of Zemmour’s party.
Moreover, Jean-Marie admits to being genuinely convinced by the campaign that his daughter is leading on the ground. A few months ago, he expressed the fact that the polemicist’s character did not seem to him qualified to be president, particularly because of his difficulty in appearing as a man of unity.
In this particularly tense context, he calls on his beloved granddaughter Marion to remain faithful to the family, judging as “shocking” the possibility that she would rally to Zemmour: “The programs are parallel, everything must lead her to be on the side of her aunt and not an unknown, however nice he may be,” he repeated.
For many early activists from the national camp, the word of Jean-Marie Le Pen carries a certain authority. The question that remains is the attitude of Marion Maréchal. In 2012, she chose to engage in politics in the Vaucluse at the insistence of her grandfather. Will she this time turn her back on his recommendations? It is not certain that she has anything to gain by rallying to Éric Zemmour, because by this personal choice she could lose the advantageous position of referee that she would hold in the ruthless war between Marine Le Pen and Zemmour. To that purpose, her experience and her personal charisma are her best allies.
Reuters reported that Jean-Marie Le Pen was hospitalized late Wednesday night after a minor stroke. “Examinations today have shown that there is nothing to worry about, there is nothing threatening,” politician Lorrain de Saint Affrique told the media. Le Pen is expected to be discharged within 36 hours.
Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).