She's blond, running for president (again) and wedded at the hip with her political mentor and the man who gave her her name. Meet Marine Le Pen, whose move to excommunicate her pesky father is as calculated as every other step she takes on her steady march toward the Élysée Palace.
The leader of France's National Front has repositioned the party Jean Marie Le Pen founded four decades ago. Out with the fringe far right agitator who never seriously aspired to govern. Ms. Le Pen's National Front is a populist contender that borrows ideas from the left as it preys on the insecurities of French voters.
Ms. Le Pen's move to block her father's candidacy in upcoming regional elections – after he gave an interview defending his previous description of the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail of history" – is seen as escalating a family feud of Shakespearean proportions. Mr. Le Pen stood down on Tuesday in favour of his granddaughter, but still faces a disciplinary hearing and potential expulsion from the party.
Rather than damaging Ms. Le Pen's brand or that of her party, however, the controversy perfectly suits her purposes. Since she replaced him as leader in 2011, Ms. Le Pen's first order of business has been to "de-diabolicalize" the party to make it acceptable to average voters. Sidelining dad helps in that regard.
But purging the hateful language is not the same as repudiating the sentiments that motivated it. Ms. Le Pen beats the same drum on immigration and identity as her father. Her message – dressed up in a bizarre form of political correctness – is even more sinister.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, for instance, Ms. Le Pen insisted incorrectly that "all of the meat" sold in the Paris region was prepared according to halal requirements. "The animal suffering is generalized, in violation of French and European law," she charged. "The fact that a majority of French are duped about what they're buying is not a trivial polemic."
Her message is clear: Muslim immigrants are overtaking France and usurping its way of life. Ms. Le Pen finds ever more creative ways to insert this theme into her discourse and make it suitable for mass consumption.
This rebranding alone would not have been enough to allow the National Front to achieve the stunning electoral success it has met under her leadership. After Ms. Le Pen's 18 per cent of the vote in the first round of the 2012 presidential vote, the party outperformed its establishment rivals on both the right and left in last year's European Parliament elections in France, with about 25 per cent of the vote.
The National Front came second in last month's French departmental elections, still with about 25 per cent of the vote. Its score was lower than the polls had predicted, but what was most notable was that its gains came mostly at the expense of the Socialists, not the centre-right UMP.
How could that happen? Her father started out as a French Ronald Reagan, espousing privatization and deregulation. But that made the National Front anathema to working-class voters. Ms. Le Pen has hit a sweet spot by keeping the anti-immigration policies of her father but ditching his economic ideas.
Marine Le Pen's National Front promotes the "state as strategist" and praises the good old days of postwar Gaullism, offering dirigisme on steroids. She has made a play for older working-class voters (the Socialist base) with a platform that blames France's economic woes on globalization and promises generous wage supplements for low-income workers. She'd finance them with a 3-per-cent tax on all imported goods – in violation of France's trade agreements.
Ms. Le Pen would cut electricity rates and the price of train tickets, paying for the reductions with new taxes on big oil companies. She promises richer public pensions and lowering the retirement age to 60 – this, after the government raised it to 62 in 2010. Not only would she pull France out of the euro, she would order the French central bank to finance her budget deficits by buying government bonds.
Former (and aspiring future) president Nicolas Sarkozy accuses Ms. Le Pen's National Front of adopting the "economic program of the extreme left." In reality, she's a populist. And she's clicking with anxious voters who see economic globalization and immigration as two sides of the same coin.
That makes her more dangerous than her dad.