Philippot Launches His “Patriots”

Arthur Goldhammer
19 February 2018

Florian Philippot, formerly ubiquitous on the airwaves as the articulate front man for the Front National, became the scapegoat for the FN’s failure in the presidential. Things became so uncomfortable for him in the FN that he quit and formed his own movement, Les Patriotes. On Sunday in Arras he held an inaugural rally and set forth an initial program. Once the boiler plate is stripped away, it comes down to one thing: Frexit.

« Oui il nous faudra pour notre salut quitter l’Union européenne, faire le Frexit et non continuer à faire croire à nos compatriotes qu’on réformera l’Europe, qu’on pourra faire avec l’euro ou avec Schengen ».

Unfortunately, this suggestion comes a bit late in the day, as Britain’s struggles with Brexit have made it clear to everyone that slamming the door on the EU is no panacea. Philippot’s hostility to Europe served its purpose when he was with the FN, allowing Marine Le Pen to recast her party’s image, transforming it from a party of xenophobic resentment to a party of protection of the (native) working class. But this de-demonization revealed its limits in the presidential campaign, in the final phase of which Le Pen turned on Philippot, hedged on her pledge to withdraw from the euro, and left everyone in utter confusion as to where she actually stood. Now she is proposing to add to the confusion by changing the name of the party, a move that seems to acknowledge that no one knows any more where it stands.

Philippot hopes to capitalize on this confusion, but he no doubt underestimates the degree to which the FN’s success under his guidance depended not on his shrewdness but on precisely the blurring of the distinction between economic and racial protectionism. His attempt to link the euro to Schengen suggests that he is aware of the problem, but merely stating the dilemma does not overcome it. Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate Philippot. With Wauquiez also poaching on FN territory, Le Pen will have her back to the wall. This three-way split on the far right only strengthens the center, which needs the reinforcement of the Juppéistes, Bertrandiens, and Pécressiens now that some on the left wing of Macronisme have begun to doubt that the president ever really intended to steer to both port and starboard en même temps.

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