French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is facing stinging criticism for making her party too mainstream, dulling its extremist edge, and ignoring grassroots members, with voices from inside and outside warning this could cost her votes in next year’s presidential race.
The rumblings grew louder after the National Rally’s failure a week ago in regional elections, and come just ahead of this weekend’s party congress.
Le Pen is the anti-immigration party’s unquestioned boss, and her fortunes aren’t expected to change at the two-day event in the southwestern town of Perpignan, hosted by local Mayor Louis Aliot — Le Pen’s former companion and, above all, the party’s top performer in last year’s municipal elections. But there could be an uncomfortable reckoning, just as Le Pen is trying to inject new dynamism into the National Rally.
Critics say Le Pen has erased her party’s anti-establishment signature by trying to make it more palatable to the mainstream right. As part of the strategy, she softened the edges and strove to remove the stigma of racism and antisemitism that clung to the party after decades under her now-ostracized father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She even changed the name from National Front, as it was called under her father, who co-founded the party in 1972 and led it for four decades.