The French community in Denver seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief at noon on Sunday when the results of the second round of their presidential election were announced: Far right leader Marine Le Pen would not be their next president.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen garnered just one-third of the votes, opening the way for political newcomer Emmanuel Macron to take the top office with a comfortable victory.
Dozens of Denver-based expatriates gathered at France’s official cultural center, the Alliance Francaise, to celebrate.
“I’m proud of my country,” said Anne Redureau, a graphic designer who grew up in France but has lived in Denver for many years. “France did the right thing by not electing Marine Le Pen.”
That sentiment was echoed by French teacher Marielle Bruant-Carlson. The Paris native said that she and her family were on the edges of their seats in their east Denver home as they awaited the results.
“I was happy that my dear old France made the right choice,” she said. “After what happened here — the election of Trump — having another ultra-conservative person in power, in Europe, would have signaled the beginning of a very dark time.”
Bruant-Carlson said a Le Pen victory would have had far-reaching consequences beyond France’s borders.
Le Pen had pledged to pull France out of the European Union, which, after the British chose to do so last summer, would have essentially spelled the end of the political union in any meaningful sense.
“Le Pen’s loss has given me reason to believe the European Union may have a future after all, and also the beautiful ideas associated with it,” she said.
Le Pen’s defeat: Like father, like daughter
Marine Le Pen leads the far-right National Front party, which was founded and led for decades by her controversial father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. He, too, almost became president of France — making it to the 2nd round of the election in 2002.
French voters turned out en masse to protest the possibility of a President Le Pen, saying they would not be led by a man who had repeatedly expressed anti-Semitic and xenophobic statements. Incumbent Jacques Chirac was unpopular, but still managed to win four out of five votes, with a massive turnout of close to 80%.
Anne Redureau and other Denver expats admit they are concerned that the non to the far-right was not nearly as resounding this time around as it was 15 years ago.
Voter turnout on Sunday was the lowest-ever in a French presidential election. And even if Marine Le Pen lost, the number of French voters who cast ballots for her was not insignificant (10 million compared to just 5 million who voted for her father).
Focus now turns to Macron, a relative unknown
When Colorado’s French community cast their old-fashioned paper ballots votes at the official voting station (at the French-affiliated International School of Denver), all talk was about Marine Le Pen – and making sure that she didn’t win. But when the results were announced, attention quickly turned to the young politician who managed to come out of left field and beat not only Le Pen but also candidates from France’s ruling parties.
“Maybe such a young man, Macron, can achieve great things?” Bruant-Carlson said. “I can’t wait to see.”
“We voted for progress, and we voted for tolerance within our country,” said Margot Renaud, a Frenchwoman from St. Tropez studying at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. “Emmanuel Macron, now is the time to prove yourself.”
Thirty-nine year-old Emmanuel Macron combines the sexy youthfulness of Canada’s superstar prime minister Justin Trudeau with what many Americans might consider a scandalous personal life. (Macron married his high school teacher, who’s 25 years his senior and has a daughter his age.)
Macron worked in finance before joining the staff of current Socialist President Francois Hollande, who eventually named him finance minister. Last year, Macron announced he was launching his own centrist party and running for president on a vague platform of uniting a divided nation.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Emmanuel Macron was described as the anti-Trump candidate, with President Obama even announcing his support for him in a video message to the French people.
But there is something very Trump-ian about Macron’s rise to the top.
Like President Trump, Macron comes from the high-flying world of business and finance. Like Trump, he essentially ran on his personality and his message – not his allegiance to, or career in, an established party. (Neither man had held any elected office before being elected president.) And like Trump, Macron is a maverick figure whose very victory – for better or worse – immediately shook up his nation’s politics.
Macron and Trump may be on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but their victories could point to a new trend: a post-party era when it comes to choosing our presidents.