French President Emmanuel Macron’s Government Lost its Centrist Grassroots Base. What Should Americans Make of This?

Independent Center Contributor Holden Lipscomb

It’s a bad time to be the governing party of France. After French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance (RE) party suffered heavy losses in the European elections, snap parliamentary elections occurred days ago.

The initial results in the first round of voting were a devastating blow to Macron’s governing coalition. Populist leader Marine Le Pen and her far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party won 33 percent of the vote, while the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) won 28 percent of the vote.

Macron’s centrist party came in third with 20 percent of the vote.

In 2017, Macron was elected President of France after defeating Le Pen. His election was due, in large part, to his ability to position himself as a centrist counter to the political extremes of the left and the right.

Before assuming Macron as a centrist leader offers lessons for those of us arguing for a more centrist option in the United States, it should be carefully understood what happened to cause this massive defeat. 

But what are we to make of this poor showing?

A key point to note: Tara Varma, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, claims that Macron’s governing coalition lacked “local anchorage” after power was centralized in Paris. In other words, Macron’s Renaissance Party forgot about the constituents that elected him in the first place.

In liberal democracies incentives are structured for politicians to respond to the electorate. They want to win reelection, after all. Once these voters feel alienated and forgotten, the political fringes thrive. Had Macron maintained his grassroots support, his party would likely still be in the parliamentary driver’s seat.

Macron’s government used to be on solid footing, but the populace eventually soured on his policies. However, as he attempted to implement neoliberal trade policies and deepen European integration, he was met with large-scale protests from both the political left and right.

Intent on modernizing France and bolstering finance, business, trade, and investment, Macron resorted to decrees aimed at pension reform and a fuel tax hike. The ensuing Yellow Vest movement and pension protests further weakened his standing amongst the electorate, as he was seen as consolidating power in Paris at the extent of the French periphery.

The anti-Macron sentiment in France is similar to that which the United States is experiencing. French citizens don’t necessarily love Le Pen’s vision for France. They simply feel that she is listening to their concerns and is willing to offer pragmatic solutions.

In the United States and France, immigration and affordability remain major issues. These are the topics that impact people’s everyday lives. If politicians aren’t actively listening to their constituents and offering legitimate solutions, they’ll find new political leaders elsewhere.

That’s the power of grassroots. And this is the lesson for politicians, regardless of their left, right, or centrist ideology. 

Americans feel that Republicans and Democrats don’t listen to them. Even worse, many feel that they rig the system for their own benefit. This is why political outsiders (like RFK Jr.) are so popular right now. 

Macron’s struggles shouldn’t be interpreted as a vote of confidence for the political fringes. Rather, it should serve as a firm reminder that voters demand someone who cares about their issue sets.

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