A CSA-Marianne poll has Marine Le Pen scoring 17-18% in the first round of the presidential election. Sarkozy may have thought he had destroyed the FN by co-opting its positions, but instead he seems to have enabled it. The FN is now in the position the Communist Party used to be in: unelectable, but potent enough to inflect the positions of others, especially on the Right. MLP has played her cards shrewdly. Sarkozy was able to outflank her father by dog-whistling to his racist, xenophobic constituency. But MLP has learned this trick and has a dog whistle of her own, which is music in the ears to populist elements in the UMP. Instead of xenophobia, she offers protectionism, anti-globalization, and anti-EU rhetoric. Instead of racism, she offers the clash of civilizations, capitalizing on Europe-wide Islamophobia. Of course when she needs to, she is every bit as capable as her father of plucking the old strings with a carefully chosen word or two: witness her characterization of Muslim prayer in the streets as an "occupation" of France by a foreign force.
By attempting to co-opt the FN, Sarkozy has helped Marine Le Pen to de-demonize the party. He must now persuade his disillusioned and withering base that they must not go this route. But how?
As for the Left, the poll shows Besancenot, who seemed to be fading, with surprising strength, and Melenchon doing well in his first foray, presenting the Socialist candidate with the usual conundrum of how to rally the left of the Left. But the real story here is the FN--and the not unexpected signal of extreme discontent that its substantial support represents.