French Center Right Gears Up for LePen with “Fillon Shocker”

The Republicans, in near-final returns from the party’s first-ever primary, dark-horse candidate and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, 62, topped an eight-candidate field with 46 percent of the vote. The resume of Felon, of course, is like those of most contemporary French politicians: member of the National Assembly past junior Cabinet minister, prime minister under Sarkozy for five years. But in many other ways, he represents something different from what is already out there. Whether France is receptive to him or to LePen is something that is sure to draw a worldwide audience next May.

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By John Gizzi l November 21, 2016

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Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon tops an eight-candidate field in his party’s first ever primary

One could almost hear the gasps of the French punditocracy on Sunday (November 20) as The Republicans—France’s center-right party—took the first step toward nominating a presidential candidate for the May 2017 elections.

The party demonstrated it is serious about going toe-to-toe in a general election with the politician increasingly noticed and feared by the French press as much as Donald Trump was by their U.S. counterparts: Marine LePen, whose hardline stand on illegal immigration and anti-European Union stance has made her FN (National Front) Party a force to be reckoned with.

In near-final returns from the party’s first-ever primary, dark-horse candidate and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, 62, topped an eight-candidate field with 46 percent of the vote.

Since he didn’t get the 50 percent-plus-one percent of the vote required for nomination, Fillon faces a run-off November 27 with runner-up (26 per cent) Alain Juppe.

Running third with 21 percent and eliminated from the race and probably politics for good was the candidate best known to Americans, former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

As a past prime minister and foreign minister and longtime mayor of Bordeaux, Juppe, 71, led in most polls and was widely considered the eventual nominee. Now, however, he is a much wounded second-place finisher and likely to lose badly to the fresh-faced Fillon.

Fillon, 62, ran as a strong supporter of the free market who would expand France’s 35-hour workweek and lower corporate taxes. In a slight acknowledgement to LePen’s vow to deport all illegal immigrants from France, Fillon has promised a referendum on the current quota of immigrants permitted to enter France.

But there is more to the likely standard-bearer of The Republicans than this. Bearing a strong resemblance to Pierce Brosnan (the former James Bond), the handsome, in-command Fillon offered a contrast to Juppe—who like Hillary Clinton, a presence on his country’s national for more than a quarter-century.

In contrast to the pattern of occasional church attendance and winked-at personal foibles that are the norm for most French politicians, Fillon is a practicing Roman Catholic and father of five. He represents Le Mans in the National Assembly and is often photographed driving one of its storied race cars.

Facing both Socialist President Francois Hollande and LePen in the general election, Candidate Fillon would be the sole champion of the free market and smaller government.

For all the admiration she receives from the right abroad, LePen is a unabashed statist who favors, according to Gaspard Koenig of the “Generation Libre” think-tank, “nationalizing most state utilities and even banks to build state monopolies, seizing household savings to service the national debt, subsidizing heavily the industrial sector, [and] increasing the number of public servants.”

The resume of Felon, of course, is like those of most contemporary French politicians: member of the National Assembly past junior Cabinet minister, prime minister under Sarkozy for five years. But in many other ways, he represents something different from what is already out there. Whether France is receptive to him or to LePen is something that is sure to draw a worldwide audience next May.


John Gizzi is the White House correspondent and chief political columnist for Newsmax. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.