Emmanuel Macron's victory in France is an encouraging development, but the far-right isn't defeated yet.
French voters handed Marine Le Pen, the now-former leader of France's xenophobic National Front party, a resounding defeat in yesterday's presidential election. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, won nearly two-thirds of all votes cast, dashing the hopes of the Anglo-American far-right who had hoped Le Pen would repeat their unexpected wins in the United Kingdom and United States. Macron ran explicitly in defense of liberal institutions, and the European Union's leaders will no doubt celebrate the size of his electoral mandate. This is now the second straight election in which Europe's far-right parties under-performed expectations, following Geert Wilders' defeat in the Netherlands' elections in March. After two years of surging far-right sentiment, the left and center may finally be stepping up to stem the tide.
Unfortunately, not all of the takeaways from the French election are encouraging. Marine Le Pen's stated goal was to make it to the runoff stage, which she did. Le Pen undoubtedly benefited from the fall of scandal-plagued Francois Fillon, who tried to run as a more conventional right-wing candidate. Nonetheless, in a fully functioning liberal democracy, the likes of Le Pen, and her party founded by former fascists, should never have made it this far.
Already, the National Front is seeking to rollover their success into June's parliamentary elections. The decline of France's main political parties (the Socialists and Republicans, both of which failed to make the presidential runoff) could provide an opportunity for the far-right to win more seats in parliament. Although they are polling well, Macron's self-formed political party, En Marche, is just now working to recruit parliamentary candidates. Macron has also sworn against strategic alliances with France's other parties, which some fear could inadvertently aid the National Front's fortunes at the polls. While the far-right may not be occupying the Élysée Palace, France's parties have some work to do yet to push back the National Front.
Throughout the campaign, President Trump signaled his support for Marine Le Pen, culminating in his prediction that a terrorist attack in Paris would have a "big effect" on the election. Le Pen has also received support from Breitbart, the far-right media organization previously run by White House staffer Steve Bannon. The White House issued a relatively muted congratulations to Macron through a brief statement attributed to Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The slight has not gone unnoticed in France, who remember Trump's personal call of congratulations to Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after a national referendum that consolidated his power at the expense of Turkey's democratic institutions.
The same far-right networks that worked tirelessly to elevate Trump also came to Le Pen's defense. Right-wing English-speaking media outlets have sung Le Pen's praises. Facing financial woes, the National Front accepted a loan from a shady Russian bank to keep themselves afloat through the election. Russia is also suspected in the targeted hacks of both the Fillon and Macron campaigns, which were suspiciously similar to attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
However, Le Pen's outside support may have ultimately been a liability to her campaign. France's conservative establishment quickly endorsed Macron after the first round of the presidential election, in stark contrast to how American conservatives conceded their support to the Trump campaign. The last minute leak of the Macron campaign's documents (many of which appear to be forged) was largely ignored by a French press constrained by mandatory pre-election silence laws. Foreign outlets largely covered the leaks in the context of foreign subversion of democracy, in contrast to how the press welcomed such subversion of America's own election. In short, the act has gotten old for the far-right's boosters, and Le Pen's eagerness to embrace Trump and Russia distracted her from seriously appealing to the French electorate.
At the end of the day, there are many reasons to celebrate France's election, but few reasons to rest. Moving forward, France's June parliamentary elections and Germany's September federal elections will tell us more about where the far-right stands. Across the Atlantic, special congressional elections in Georgia and Montana may also demonstrate enthusiasm from the left and center in the wake of Trump's election. It will be critically important to build on these victories moving forward, in order to silence the far-right's bigotry and xenophobia once more.