The debate was an incredible 4-hour marathon, until 12:30 in the morning: 11 candidates, from one calling for immediate exit from the EU (i.e. right of Le Pen!) to a Trotskyite in a t-shirt. And frustrating. Candidates who count had too little time to present their positions and answer questions.
Marine Le Pen stuck to her guns, advocating “intelligent protectionism” for beleaguered French workers, along the lines of Switzerland and South Korea. She focused on agricultural workers, specifically chiding Macron for ignoring them.
Le Pen also stressed the need for secure borders to contain Islamic terrorism. Her best line of the night— “Now, France is a university of jihadists”—induced reflexive pearl-clutching from the others.
Le Pen did not retreat from her pledge to resign the presidency if a referendum on the Euro should result in a vote to keep the common currency.
Macron reacted with horror to Le Pen’s "intelligent protectionism":
What you propose is economic war! … What you propose is nationalism! Nationalism is war. (emphasis added)Le Pen has the fortunate effect of making Macron blurt out what he really thinks.
I find Macron’s hauteur and petulant manner of speaking unappealing, but what matters is what French voters think. Since the debate, he has made another national TV appearance, addressing his perceived weakness: nobody is quite sure what his platform is, or even who his candidates will be in June’s legislative elections. The murkiness around who Macron really is and what he really stands for is something Le Pen needs to exploit.
The day after, Marine Le Pen went to Monswiller in Alsace. Her promise to break up the super-regions cobbled together by recent governments and return to France’s traditional regions (“I’ll give you back Alsace!”) got her a warm reception.
Francois Fillon, the center-right candidate who was the Establishment favorite before hitting corruption scandals, went to Alsace too, but his luck didn’t change. The embattled Republican candidate got bombarded by a flour-bag.