A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

2 March 2024

It’s hardly news that both the Macronistes and Les Républicains have been chasing after hard-right votes by taking an ever tougher line on immigration. The sheep are dressing up in the wolf’s clothing, as it were. But two can play at this game. Libération notes that the latest darling of the hard-right, RN president Jordan Bardella, has been sounding an awful lot like a Macroniste himself lately:

Macroniste, Bardella ? Le pas est osé mais le président du RN multiplie tellement les clins d’œil qu’on est en droit de se demander si, au fond, il ne partage pas les grands axes socio-économiques du gouvernement, la xénophobie et l’islamophobie en bonus. Il faut l’écouter, en décembre à la Station F – la Rome de la start-up nation – jouer la sérénade aux patrons de PME : «Je pense que la méritocratie, c’est l’ascenseur social, et les grands patrons ont beaucoup plus souvent pris l’escalier que l’ascenseur.» Ou citer Bernard Arnault, Xavier Niel et Rodolphe Saadé, trois milliardaires assez peu fâchés avec le pouvoir en place, tout en vantant un programme économique «raisonnable» et «en faveur du business».Sur l’intelligence artificielle, son dada nourri par le commerce avec le fondateur de Doctissimo, Laurent Alexandre«libéral schumpétérien» autoproclamé, Bardella condamne la régulation excessive et imagine son développement à l’échelle de l’Union européenne.

At the same time, Bardella’s popularity keeps rising, to the point where Marine Le Pen may need to worry about being eclipsed by her young chouchou. After all, she has lost two presidential elections, whereas the hardworking and energetic Bardella has been multiplying public appearances of late while the woman who elevated him to prominence has maintaine a lower profile.

What’s behind Bardella’s neoliberal turn? Is it a deliberate part of the RN’s de-demonization strategy? When the sheep dress as wolves, why shouldn’t the actual wolves dress as sheep? What could be more respectable than sounding exactly like the president, especially in his earlier incarnation, when he was still plausible ni droite ni gauche? More likely, Bardella is merely reflecting the reality that in many policy areas, the RN is devoid of ideas of its own and therefore can do no better than mimic the ideas of its opponents, unpopular though they may be. In any case, the voters who swoon for Bardella don’t seem to care. It’s a curious thing: the French seem eager to be swept off their feet by a young, dashing, vigorous genre idéal, be his name Macron, Attal, … or Bardella.

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