The Long Read: Florian Philippot is the strategist behind the rebranding of the far right Front National as a populist, anti-elite crusade. But dont gaffe him for a moderate
On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right lead Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before sunrise, when Donald Trumps victory is still not official but the liberal establishment was beginning to anxiety, he tweeted: Their world is disintegrating. Ours is being built.
Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a exultant climate at the headquarters of her party the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National preparing to deliver a speech commending Trump. His succes, on predicts of trade protectionism and the closing of margins, looked like a major lift to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car have come to take Philippot, the partys vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250 km from Paris, to lay a crown at the tomb of Frances great postwar lead, General Charles de Gaulle.
Trumps victory happened to coincide with the commemoration of the deaths among de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: its term of office, which adjoins Le Pens, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in “states parties ” that have all along considered de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French settlement of Algeria its independence.
Philippots nobility credentials should have been another strike against him within “states parties ” that exclaims its revulsion of the establishment. A alumnu of the exclusive Ecole Nationale dAdministration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didnt start out in the Front National in the traditional path driving around the countryside lodging poll posters to fencings. Philippot is also homosexual, in “states parties ” whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen formerly called homosexuality a biological and social anomaly. And hitherto, at 35, he has become the articulation of the working party, its media virtuoso, and the first to assertion Trumps victory as a signaling of a new world order.
After the wreath-laying at de Gaulles tomb, Philippot hosted a dinner for 100 party workers and trade advocates in a nearby restaurant. At the conclusion of its dinner, with crumpled newspaper napkins strewn across the table, he told his clients that Trumps win have confirmed that the people were throwing off their chains. France would be next, he supposed, promising that Marine Le Pen would win the French general elections in May.
Everything that yesterday was said to be impossible or preposterous, be here today become highly possible and very probable, he supposed. The polls showed that even if Le Pen reached the final run-off, she could never win, but that didnt matter. Chants of Marine prsident! ring out around the area. Le Pen would move France great again, Philippot predicted, and everyone stood up to sing the Marseillaise.
If Le Pen is now the closest she has ever been to the French presidency, it is in big side down to her working partnership with Philippot, whose decision she relies so altogether that she rarely takes a decision without consulting him. They have an intellectual alliance; they are in complete agreement on basic principles, supposed Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochre, an adviser to Le Pen who is also close to Philippot.
It is Philippot who is credited with executing Le Pens plan to sanitise the Front Nationals image, tone down its rhetoric and widen its electoral subsistence expelling open shows of anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia, even if those old-time obsessions still foam away under the surface. Philippots single-minded mission to control the party line and root out objectors has led his competitors inside the party to liken him to Robespierre, the ruthless French revolutionary leader.
So zealous was Philippots drive to transform the partys image that he promoted Le Pen to expelled her parent, Jean-Marie Le Pen, from the working party he co-founded in 1972. If the outspoken, racist, Holocaust-denying 83 -year-old Papa Le Pen was a blight on the Front Nationals electoral prospects, Philippot styled himself as its saving. But as the Front National attempts to take the conference of presidents, the adulation, dread and debate that Philippot provokes have opened new rifts inside the party.