Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National, was jubilant on Wednesday as she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters to congratulate Donald Trump, saying his victory showed nothing was “set in stone” and the “political and media elite” could be put in its place.
Mainstream politicians in Paris immediately began warning that the next political earthquake could be what had always been seen as impossible: Le Pen winning the French presidential election in six months’ time.
Even before Trump’s win was official, Le Pen’s chief strategist, Florian Philippot, had tweeted: “Their world is collapsing, ours is being built.” Marine Le Pen’s estranged father, the former far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, added: “Today the United States, tomorrow France.”
All French polls currently show that Le Pen will easily make it through to the final run-off of the French presidential election in May. Her party is now a key electoral force and its anti-immigration stance has set the tone for the wider political debate.
But the same polls suggest that Le Pen cannot win because her party has no potential political allies to do deals with and because French voters of all persuasions would gang up in a storm of tactical voting to keep her out of the Elysée palace – in the same way they did in the regional elections last year.
However, after Trump’s breakthrough, politicians in France said the mainstream must do more to stop the rise of Le Pen. “What’s happening in the US could happen in France,” said Dominique de Villepin, a former rightwing prime minister.
“The boundaries of reason disappeared with Brexit; the main lesson for France is that Le Pen can win,” said Jean-Pierre Raffarin, another former centre-right prime minister.
The far-right Front National was the only big French political party to support Trump during the US campaign, even if Le Pen spoke more of her dislike of Hillary Clinton than any personal affinity with Trump.
Le Pen shares several of Trump’s views, namely on immigration and economic protectionism, but she has worked to tone down her own party rhetoric to make it more palatable. She called Trump’s win “good news for France” saying he would tame “wild globalisation”, improve relations with Russia, and rein in “the warlike interventions that are the source of the huge migratory waves that we are suffering”.
In 2002, France suffered the biggest upset in its post-war political history when Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of the presidential election. He was then massively beaten by tactical voting for the rightwing Jacques Chirac. But this time, the margin against his daughter is expected to be much slimmer.
The first indicator of Trump’s impact on the French presidential election will be the French right’s primary race to choose its presidential candidate in two weeks’ time. The moderate centre-right former prime minister Alain Juppé is currently the pollsters’ favourite to become the right’s contender and face off with Le Pen. After Trump’s win, he warned France of the electoral “risks of demagoguery and extremism” at home.
But Nicolas Sarkozy, who has run an increasingly hardline, far-right-themed campaign targeting Muslims and minorities – he insisted this week that children who don’t eat pork should lose their special school dinner options and instead eat chips – hopes for a personal boost from Trump’s win. His camp has ramped up its own “people versus the elite” message and Sarkozy promised to fight “political correctness”.
With François Hollande’s satisfaction ratings dropping to only 4% and the French left at each others’ throats, the Socialist party head, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, said after Trump’s win: “The left has been warned! If we continue our irresponsible, childish behaviour, it will be Marine Le Pen.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Trump’s breakthrough was likely to boost candidates running on nationalistic, anti-foreigner, anti-elite and anti-globalisation platforms in several key elections over the next year.
Early next month, Austrians will vote in a presidential election that could see Norbert Hofer of the rightwing populist Freedom party become the first far-right head of state in western Europe since the second world war.
Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the party, congratulated Trump, writing on Facebook: “Bit by bit, the political left and the out-of-touch and corrupt establishment is being punished by voters and driven from the seats of power. That’s a good thing, because the law comes from the people.”
In Germany, which also holds an election next year, Frauke Petry, the leader of the rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland, said Trump’s result was “encouraging” as it could herald a political sea-change in Europe.
The Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, an Islamophobic frontrunner in parliamentary elections due next year, told Trump on Twitter that “your victory is historic and for all of us!”
In Hungary, hardline nationalist leader Viktor Orbán said Trump’s victory proved that “democracy is still alive”.
In Greece, Golden Dawn, the party seen as Europe’s most virulent far-right force, applauded the result as a blow to America’s political and economic establishment.
Additional reporting by Philip Oltermann, Kate Connolly and Helena Smith