With Help from France’s Elite, Le Pen Tries to Steer Far-Right Party Into Mainstream

With Help from France’s Elite, Le Pen Tries to Steer Far-Right Party Into Mainstream, by Stacy Meichtry.

For more than a year, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, representing the once-ostracized National Front, met with influential bankers, corporate executives and government officials to get advice on the radical changes vowed by her campaign. Now the group is helping plan what she hopes will be her first 100 days in office. …

Under Ms. Le Pen, National Front’s goal is to move from a xenophobic protest movement founded by her father into a mainstream party espousing economic nationalism. That effort centers on tapping a long-submerged vein of Gaullist traditionalism, which regards the European Union and euro as infringements on French national sovereignty. …

Ms. Le Pen, 48 years old, has called the euro a “knife in the ribs” of France that allows the EU to inflict “its views, its inept directives and its millions of migrants.” She wants higher taxes on foreign workers and a lower retirement age. Ms. Le Pen blames the common currency for France’s chronically high unemployment and has said she would bring back the franc if elected. …

Winning the second-round runoff in May looks harder because supporters of candidates knocked out in the first round are likely to coalesce against her. … Even if she loses, though, the growth of Ms. Le Pen’s ardent following means she is likely to help keep shaping French and European politics. …

Some National Front loyalists thought the party was straying too far from the beliefs of its base. In 2013, Ms. Le Pen refused to attend a march against the legalization of gay marriage. Her absence was seen by party hard-liners as an act of deference to Mr. Philippot [her right-hand man for party strategy], who is openly gay. Instead, they rallied behind her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who marched at the protest.