With Macron’s eyes on Ukraine, the far right is dominating the French election | Cole Stangler

An outside observer watching France’s presidential election campaign would be forgiven for thinking that immigration, crime and secularism are all that the French public care about. In fact, according to a recent study by Ipsos, a staggering 52% of registered voters said their top concern ahead of April’s first-round vote was the cost of living, followed by healthcare and the environment.

That’s not what the leading candidates are talking about. Instead, the campaign has been dominated by familiar national obsessions such as immigration and crime, but also increasingly inflammatory culture wars over national identity, the place of Islam and laïcité – France’s muscular variant of secularism. These are debates that almost always take place on the right’s terms.

The president, Emmanuel Macron, has not yet officially declared his bid for reelection, hoping to stay above the melee for as long as possible. In the meantime, his top three competitors – all of them on the right – are aiming to outflank each other on these issues, running neck and neck for a spot in the runoff round and a likely match-up against the incumbent.

Every week of their sparring seems to bring new horrors. Earlier this month, Valérie Pécresse, the right’s mainstream candidate, decided her first major campaign event was just the right moment to nod to a white nationalist conspiracy theory. At a highly anticipated speech in Paris, she declared there was “no inevitability” to the “great replacement” – a term that refers to the supposed cultural and demographic transformation of white Europe. (Pécresse later insisted she didn’t mean to actually endorse the idea, which was coined by the French writer Renaud Camus, and has been described as a “master narrative” for far-right terrorist attacks.)

To be sure, there is demand for this brand of politics. They may not be a majority, but France has a solid bloc of hard-right voters. In 2017, around 7.7 million people…

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