Gérard Grunberg argues that Marine Le Pen's strategy, though quite successful in one sense, was in fact a failure in its own terms. Under MLP, the point is to gain power by holding office, he contends, not simply to make a statement or represent a point of view. And despite substantial gains in votes in many cantons, the FN won few seats.
This is true, and yet it somehow misses the point, I think. The Front National can't gain power until it becomes "coalitonable." Despite Sarkozy's refusal to issue a consigne de vote to UMP electors, there is still enough reticence in UMP circles to lock the FN out of any effective alliance. But how much longer can this stance hold? The UMP is in danger of being reduced to one of two major parties on the Right. Already one hears the argument from symmetry: if the Left could win in '81 by making the Communists clubbable, why can't the Right win in the future by doing the same for the FN? There is clear evidence that in some quarters of the Right, the Left--even the Socialist Left--remains less fréquentable than the FN. If the runoff in 2012 is between a Socialist and MLP, the Socialist will not get 80 percent of the vote, as Chirac did in 2002. Too many on the Right simply will not vote for any leftist candidate. The UMP is going to have an identity crisis over this issue: this will be the real national debate on identité, unlike the abortive pseudo-debate of last year.
I failed to see this coming. One of my reasons for following the Sarkozy presidency was to track the evolution of the Right. I thought that Sarkozy had transformed the party, which he totally controlled, and reduce the FN to manageable proportions. I was wrong on all counts. His control was less thorough than it seemed, the party remains as fractious as ever, and the FN, though initially it seemed to be weakened, has only been strengthened by Sarkozy's tactics. The next year should be interesting.