After words come actions. Since Monday, July 1, several dozen candidates from the former presidential governing coalition withdrew in favor of a left-wing candidate from the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) left-wing coalition, in an attempt to beat the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party candidate, and vice versa.

President Emmanuel Macron, who strangely enough preferred to gather his ministers at the Elysée rather than speak solemnly to the French people, clarified his position on Monday, saying that it was the far right that was poised to rise to the highest positions and “no one else.” Following in the footsteps of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal the day before, he called, in a tense and frigid atmosphere, for “not a single vote” to go to the far right, whereas before the first round, he was leaning toward a “neither-nor” (neither the RN nor the radical left La France Insoumise party, which is part of the NFP).

This marks a 180-degree turnaround, after having pitted the two “extremes” against each other throughout the campaign, underlining the risk of “civil war” in the event of a victory for one or the other. Macron had even lashed out at the NFP, criticizing it for its “immigrationism” or describing some of its proposals as “grotesque,” such as “free sex reassignment at the town hall.”

This isn’t the first time the president opportunely remembers about the “republican front” (the tradition of backing candidates in the face of the far right, whatever their political affiliation), for which he has not always demonstrated his support. In the 2021 regional elections, he argued that his candidates should decide “locally.” Concentrating on his attempt to subjugate the Parti Socialiste and the right-wing Les Républicains (LR), he had, for example, wanted that in the Hauts-de-France region, the list of the presidential majority – led by junior minister Laurent Pietraszewski – would not drop out, in order to “force” the LR incumbent, Xavier Bertrand, into a deal.

Ultimately, the issue did not materialize, as Macron’s party was not in a position to stand in the second round. At the time, MEP Stéphane Séjourné and Attal, then government spokesperson, had also buried the republican front, arguing for list mergers rather than withdrawals. Opposing them, former party leader Christophe Castaner called for clarity, arguing that Macron and the governing coalition would need the republican front for the 2022 presidential election.

Change of course

Back then, as the gap between RN leader Marine Le Pen and Macron narrowed before the first round, the incumbent president felt the need to “re-demonize” his opponent, opportunely referring to the “fundamentals” of the far right: “rejection of the Republic,” “anti-Semitism” and “xenophobia.” He called for a united front “from social democracy to Gaullism,” a sort of “permanent republican front” against the extremes. He also criticized journalists for participating in the “normalization” of Le Pen. “I hear that she is far-right less often. Twenty years ago, the media would say ‘it’s terrible, [let’s call for the] republican front.’ There is no longer that reaction,” he lamented, without mentioning that his own camp had contributed to this normalization: Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin went so far as to denounce Le Pen’s “softness.”

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