The French presidential runoff transcended national politics. It was globalization against nationalism. It was the future versus the past. Open versus closed.
But in his resounding victory on Sunday night, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist who has never held elected office, won because he was the beneficiary of a uniquely French historic and cultural legacy, where many voters wanted change but were appalled at the type of populist anger that had upturned politics in Britain and the United States. He trounced the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, keeping her well under 40 percent, even as her aides said before the vote that anything below that figure would be considered a failure.
His victory quickly brought joy from Europe’s political establishment, especially since a Le Pen victory would have plunged the European Union into crisis. But in the end, Mr. Macron, only 39, a former investment banker and an uninspired campaigner, won because of luck, an unexpected demonstration of political skill, and the ingrained fears and contempt that a majority of French still feel toward Ms. Le Pen and her party, the National Front.
For the past year, a pressing political question has been whether widespread public frustration against Western political establishments had morphed into a global populist movement. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last June, followed by the presidential election of Donald J. Trump in the United States, created the impression of a mounting wave. Ms. Le Pen, stalwart of the European far right, was the next truly big test.
But Ms. Le Pen’s challenge was different because French history is different. She has spent the last six years as president of the National Front single-mindedly focused on one objective: erasing the stain of her party’s association with the ex-collaborationists, right-wing extremists, immigrant-hating racists and anti-Semites who founded it 45 years ago.
She knew — as her father, the party patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen, always refused to acknowledge — that she would always be a minority candidate as long as she reminded the French of perhaps the greatest stain in their history, the four years of far-right rule during World War II. Inside and outside the party this process was called “undemonization” — a term suggesting the demons still associated with her party. The French do not want them back.
“There was no choice. I couldn’t vote for Le Pen. You’re not going to vote for the extremist,” said Martine Nurit, 52, a small-restaurant owner who had just cast her ballot in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement on Sunday. She had voted for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, on April 23, and it was with “not an ounce of joy” that she voted for the “business-oriented” Mr. Macron in the second.
“Mostly, I voted against Le Pen,” she said.
In the end Ms. Le Pen failed to “undemonize,” spectacularly. She failed during the course of the campaign, when her angry rallies drew the Front inexorably back into the swamp from which it had emerged. And then she failed decisively in one of the campaign’s critical moments, last week’s debate with Mr. Macron, when she effectively “redemonized” herself and the party, as many French commentators noted.
Follow the link to see the source article published by The New York Times May 7, 2017.