On the wall in the new presidential campaign offices of France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen hangs a portrait of Hollywood tough guy Clint Eastwood. He might seem an odd choice of pinup for Europe’s biggest far-right, nationalist, anti-immigration party, but Le Pen admires Eastwood’s “bravery” in voting for Donald Trump in the US election last month. Dirty Harry, like Trump himself, has become something of a feel-good mascot for the French far-right’s battle for the leadership of the country. Instead of a gun, the ageing but still snarling Eastwood is pointing a blue rose, Le Pen’s new campaign symbol.
Trump’s US victory blew apart any notion of foregone electoral conclusions, leading Paris’s mainstream politicians to warn that the world’s next political earthquake could happen in France. Le Pen winning the French presidential election in five months’ time – something that had always been seen as impossible – would be the greatest shock in postwar European politics.
The panicked warnings carry an element of admission of defeat from France’s mainstream right and left parties. For years, they have shouted that the Front National is a dangerous, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic party, yet they have been unable to stem its slow, but steady, rise. In fact, all the mainstream parties have borrowed Le Pen’s rhetoric on immigration and anti-terrorism in an attempt to compete. However, as Jean-Marie Le Pen – the party’s founder, a gruff ex-paratrooper and Marine’s father – is fond of saying: “Voters prefer the original to the copy.”