The ‘republican front’ strategy has been challenged and almost thoroughly discredited since 2010. On the one hand, the UMP no longer automatically endorses the left against the FN and many UMP leaders - Copé first and foremost – have had ambiguous statements on all this. The UMP nowadays tends to prefer the ni ni strategy – neither the left nor the FN – although the party remains split between a moderate faction of the ruling elite which still has sympathy for the ‘republican front’ and a more conservative activist base which has a large minority favouring open electoral alliances with the FN. The PS, meanwhile, still has a preference for the ’republican front’ but the UMP’s strategy has unnerved it, to the point where some local PS candidates will endorse neither the UMP nor the FN. Recently, there were allegations that the PS in the Vaucluse covertly supported FN candidate (now deputy) Marion Maréchal-Le Pen by not withdrawing its candidate from the three-way runoff in which Marion Maréchal-Le Pen emerged victorious.
Finally, the continuation of a ’republican front’ strategy tends to play right into the FN’s hand. A large part of Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric is denouncing the corrupt ‘UMPS’ elites – a message incessantly regurgitated by her new circle of obedient young leaders and candidates, including the FN candidate in this constituency. A ‘republican front’ between UMP and PS can easily be presented by the FN as ‘proof’ that both parties are, in reality, two sides of the same coin and are in cahoots with one another. And neither the UMP nor the PS try very hard to disprove that – PS deputies recently found common cause with UMP deputies in significantly watering down the government’s post-Cahuzac transparency and ethics legislation.
As in the Oise-2, this by-election has shown two things – the PS is unpopular and faces an electoral drubbing if these numbers hold up in a national election; the FN is the only political force in the country which is truly on the upswing and it has proven that it has a remarkable ability to gain significant support from one round to another in duel runoffs. The cordon sanitaire is – in good part – gone. The FN has a far less ‘toxic’ image. Marine Le Pen’s dédiabolisation efforts are paying off, and many voters – left and right – are willing to vote for the FN over a more ‘acceptable’ party in the runoff when their preferred candidate is eliminated. We cannot treat voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.