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Bannon Backs Le Pen With A Shared Anti-Establishment Stance

Mar 12, 2018
Originally published on March 12, 2018 5:40 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The leader of the far-right movement in France, Marine Le Pen, presided over her political party's annual meeting this weekend. On the program, a surprise guest speaker from America, former White House adviser Steve Bannon. And as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, Bannon's message about ethnonationalism got a warm welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mr. Steve Bannon.

(APPLAUSE)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Bannon was introduced to a cheering National Front crowd in the northern French city of Lille. The American populist strategist arrived straight from Italy, where he'd gone to congratulate the Italian far-right on its victory in recent parliamentary elections. He told the French populace not to be ashamed because they're part of a growing world movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BANNON: Let them call you racist.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Speaking French).

BANNON: Let them call you xenophobes.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Speaking French).

BANNON: Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker.

BEARDSLEY: Christian Makarian is deputy editor of news magazine L'Express.

CHRISTIAN MAKARIAN: Bannon coming is a kind of blessing coming from America, from the only model that works, in a way, Trump.

BEARDSLEY: Makarian says Trumpism gives hope to French populists that they too can close their borders and put up tariffs. But he says Bannon's appearance is also a sign that Marine Le Pen is finished in France so she's looking to boost her populist stature internationally. Polls show only 16 percent of the French now think Le Pen would make a good president, and fewer than 30 percent think her party should be in any kind of leadership position.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

LE PEN: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Makarian says Le Pen has never recovered from losing to President Emmanuel Macron last year, especially her disastrous debate performance against him.

MAKARIAN: This debate has shown the whole country that Marine Le Pen was not thinkable, was not possible as a president for a country called France.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen also announced a name change to the party in the hopes of completing the break with its racist, anti-Semitic image. But despite the new name, National Rally, Le Pen hammered the same old themes. She got a standing ovation for calling for an end to legal as well as illegal immigration.

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.