A French Politician Who Has Helped Refine the National Front Party MARCH 20, 2015By this point, I’m figuring the boy wonder is either sleeping with Ms. Le Pen or is gay.
By SUZANNE DALEY
ST.-MACAIRE-EN-MAGUES, France — Florian Philippot was about to take the stage in this small western village in the hope of lifting the fortunes of the local candidates of the far-right National Front party.
But he was not using a last moment of quiet to collect his thoughts. Instead, he was testing his latest turn of phrase on a handful of local journalists who had come to interview him. France’s beleaguered president, François Hollande, had recently said that he wanted to “yank” voters away from Mr. Philippot’s party.
“As if our supporters were weeds,” he said with a huff. “Maybe he would do better to think more about how to yank voters off the unemployment rolls.”
The line is an example of why some in France have called Mr. Philippot, who at 33 is the National Front’s vice president in charge of communications and strategy, the “argument machine.” Experts give Mr. Philippot credit for much of the party’s success so far, saying he has been critical in its efforts to present a respectable face — and one that is ready to govern. …
These days, the French actually hear more from Mr. Philippot, who is a constant presence on television talk shows, than they do from Ms. Le Pen.
It is not hard to see why he is such a popular guest. He is a graduate of one of France’s elite business schools as well as its École Nationale d’Administration, known as ENA, which has trained most French politicians, including Mr. Hollande, and he appears indestructible on television.
Like the front-row student who always has his hand up, he sits, neatly groomed, on the edge of his chair, happily jousting with panels of gray-haired experts who mean to portray his party as dangerously extreme. But more often than not they are flummoxed by Mr. Philippot’s intellectual agility. …
He describes his first meeting with Ms. Le Pen in 2009 as a kind of political love at first sight. A friend had arranged a dinner party, knowing that Mr. Philippot was intrigued. By the end of the night, Ms. Le Pen has said, they were finishing each other’s sentences.
“From the beginning we connected both on a human and a political level,” Mr. Philippot said, adding, “I was attracted to her energy, her dynamism, her courage.” And, he said, the National Front was a party that would allow young people a place at the table.
He has repeatedly refused to discuss his private life. But in December, the gossip magazine Closer, which last year published photos of Mr. Hollande sneaking out of the Élysée Palace on a scooter to meet an actress, published photographs of Mr. Philippot on vacation with a boyfriend.