'Full Measure': Le Pen
PARIS (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - The star power on this stage in France, with all the fireworks and frenzy, is a woman positioning to become the country’s next president - and the symbol of a movement hardly limited to this jam-packed arena.
Marine Le Pen: "If we choose our nation as I’m offering you to do, it’s all together, all united, that we will confront challenges of globalization, of Islamism and of terrorism. It’s the only way to stand up again, to be great again, and to freedom and for all of you, it’s the way to happiness."
Le Pen, 48, is drawing these boisterous crowds, not just by speaking but, equally, by listening. Her supporters, often chanting a loosely translated, "This is our home," feel they’ve been forgotten by the current body politic, and it’s Le Pen who is fueling enthusiasm for the first time in a long time.
Scott Thuman: "Do you think the French have been losing their culture, you’ve been losing that?"
Pierre Martin: "Yes, yes."
Thuman: "And you’re trying to regain it is what you’re saying?"
Martin: "The brightness of France all over the world is shut down, you know? All over the world."
In a nation where many are desperately clinging to a fleeting French way of life, a society of sidewalk cafes and romantic nostalgia, Le Pen and the National Front are making nationalism their primary goal. For many French, the changes from the outside don’t sit well.
Le Pen: "While we destroyed national borders we are forced to build new ones inside our country. You, ladies and gentlemen, as individuals, have experienced it because now you need fences around your house higher and higher. Armored doors, more and more resistance, keys, passwords, alarm systems, yes! Walls that we don’t have outside anymore to protect us collectively, we now have to build them inside to protect us individually. We see it, border is a way to protect us as a nation, where the nation can live peacefully."
This populist movement may sound familiar to many Americans. Though Le Pen’s preferences go beyond closing borders - she’d like to see any outward religious expressions outlawed, from burkas to yarmulkes, and is pushing for France’s own version of something seen recently in Great Britain.
Thuman: "If she were to become president, if she wins, what is the first thing you want her to do?"
Thuman: "The French version of Brexit, get out?"
Martin: "Yes, because all the, uh, all the, the candidates says we are to make French great again, like Trump and, uh, and here we are fighting for, uh, our job. You know?"
Getting out would mean a withdrawal from the 28-member European Union to gain independence when it comes to currency, trade and border control. It could also threaten the future of the E.U.
Thuman: "Marine Le Pen paints a pretty dark picture of the future sometimes, doesn’t she?"
Nonna Mayer: "Well, that’s her idea. If you play on the fears ... of voters, the idea is we are the only party that offers the protection. She has framed globalization as a triple threat. It’s an economic threat: look ... they are going to steal your job - all these immigrants! It’s a cultural threat. There are threats for values, our French culture and identity. And it’s a political threat. Our decisions now are not taken by the national government, it’s the end of the sovereign nation-state, so that’s how she paints the future. And what she says is, but if you vote for us, that will stop. We are going to close the borders and will go back to the golden age as France was before."
Mayer has been studying Le Pen and her surging National Front political party for years. She says for many voters, it’s become a last resort.
Thuman: "She’s seen as a real hero by many, isn’t she?"
Mayer: "It depends on what you call a hero but at least she, in a world where there’s distrust in the political class, she’s maybe the last one to say, ‘We can do it.’ She promises something, she said, 'Look, you’ve tried the right. You’ve tried the left. They’ve governed together and they’ve failed. Why don’t you try us?'"
But getting to the big stage and lead in early polls hasn’t been easy. The NF’s success meant Le Pen would kick out the party’s founder, who also happens to be her father, Jean Marie Le Pen. The two no longer speak. She’s more aligned with her niece, the also highly polarizing politician Marion Marechel Le Pen, whom we interviewed last year in Paris.
Marion Marechal Le Pen: "I would like to remind that France is the Europe's leading exporter of ISIS soldiers that underlines a malaise. Don't bury your head in the sand. The areas with the higher immigration rates are the areas with a strong insecurity. This immigration policy has failed. We have to stop burying our head in the sand because of the right thinking."
The recent spate of terror attacks in Paris and across Europe and the sometimes chaotic environment brought by an influx of refugees has created a perfect storm from which Marine Le Pen strikes a chord with the fed-up French voters.
Marine Le Pen: "The democratic uprising of people is going on ... in the U.S. and Great Britain and Italy, in India and, eventually, everywhere in the world. Patriots are speaking the same language."
Thuman: "She promotes the idea of closed borders, you think that’s a good idea?"
Man at rally: "Many problems with borders because many immigrants come in France."
Thuman: "And you want to stop that?"
Man at rally: "Yes. I want it to stop."
Thuman: "You want to close the borders?"
Man at rally: "Yes, yes. Close the borders."
Thuman: "You would like out of the European Union?"
Woman at rally: "Yes. I would. I would go against, I would say no, we don’t want to stay."
Le Pen supporters say while a loss would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be devastating because they believe the ideas of the National Front are contagious and will carry on, well beyond this election.
National Front Party member: "The Front National already lost a lot of battles in the past. We know what losing means ... and our supporters are growing in number every year. Our biggest challenge is to change vote habits. The intellectual battle, the battle of convictions, we already won it. In the minds of French people, our ideas are predominant."
Thuman: "We have a phrase sometimes used in Washington when people want to get rid of the current government, they say, 'Throw the bums out.'"
Mayer: "We have the same expression in France, they say, 'Sortie le out with the in!' And that’s a strong drive in the support for the Front National. Today in France you have something like 79 percent of the citizens consider that the political class doesn’t care what people like me think. You have three out of four consider that the political class is corrupt. So, there is the temptation to say, out with them all! But that’s not enough."
Despite, according to pollsters, difficult odds for Le Pen and her party, her supporters believe change is not only in the air, it is now inevitable. So, this election in France could foretell ballot-casting across the rest of Europe and if populism is to truly take hold, or has hit its own wall.
Mayer: "Fifty-eight percent, as of a few weeks ago in the polls, say her party is a danger for democracy, and that’s the first flaw. And the second flaw, but maybe Trump it’s the same, is that she’s not really capable of being president of the republic."
Marine Le Pen: "To those who think that France has done her time, I say the time coming is her time. Time of her great return. I offer you to come back to pride. Being proud of our history, being proud of what we are, being proud of the France we’re gonna leave to our children."