France’s presidential race now pits two candidates who refuse to identify as “left” or “right”

I can be your everything.
I can be your everything.
Image: Reuters/Vincent Kessler
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Those rooting against the spread of Trump-style populism won’t like what’s happening in France. As the country’s presidential race heats up, its far-right populist candidate has declared that she’s ditching her party altogether to court the whole of France.

Marine Le Pen, who normally heads the anti-immigrant, anti-globalization party the National Front, will face off with pro-globalization centrist Emmanuel Macron in a runoff on May 7.

But a day after the country’s first-round vote, from which Macron and Le Pen emerged as finalists, Le Pen announced that she would step down from her party to focus on her campaign. ”I take leave of the presidency of the National Front. I am only the candidate for the presidency.” In a television interview, she said that she wanted to be above ”partisan considerations.”

She prefaced her message with a tweet a day earlier asserting that she was the “candidate of the people. I am appealing to patriots, wherever they come from.”

The rebranding speaks to an eerie convergence of the far-right and far-left in a country that has booted its mainstream parties from the presidential race for the first time in modern history.

Macron, an independent candidate who founded his party En Marche! (On The Move!) only a year ago, is a socially-conscious, pro-market centrist who also claims to be neither “left” nor “right.” Though the two candidates ran neck and neck in the first round of 11 candidates, Macron is expected to trounce Le Pen by some 20 percentage points in the May 7 vote.

That leaves Le Pen with less than two weeks to attract voters whose candidates got knocked out in the first round. So far, those candidates have almost all backed Macron, with one holdout: far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who begrudgingly left the decision to his supporters through his website.

Abandoning the National Front is a desperate attempt by Le Pen to break with the party’s extremist past, which stands between her and anti-globalist French voters who aren’t xenophobic. In the first round, those voters mostly came out in droves for Mélenchon, who shot up in the polls recently to take fourth place, and won 19.64% of first-round votes (just shy of what Le Pen would need to win the presidency).

Le Pen and Mélenchon’s pro-Russia, protectionist platforms are surprisingly similar. According to a recent poll, their supporters were more likely to fear unemployment and financial insecurity, and were more critical than Macron supporters about NATO and the EU.

But Le Pen’s rebranding isn’t likely to work. Not only have all the mainstream parties joined forces to thwart her ascent, a tactic they used in 2002 to successfully shunt her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Very few voters who backed Mélenchon and conservative François Fillon, the other candidate Le Pen needs to pull voters from, have said they would back Le Pen over Macron in the second round.

That leaves very little room for Le Pen to realistically engineer a Trump-style surprise coup, even with the added distance between her and the far right.