Marine Le Pen’s decision not to join the marche républicaine yesterday in Paris was a major political mistake, probably the biggest strategic mistake that she has made since she has become leader of the Front National. All her efforts so far aimed at ending the marginalization of the Front in the French political life, and at asserting it as a credible alternative to the main center-right party UMP. While retaining elements of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen consistently tried to move the party closer to the center-right, making it appealing for a larger number of voters.
The tactical rationale behind her decision not to join the marche was clearly to stress her difference from all the other parties and politicians. But Le Pen has no need to stress her well-known difference, and her well-known distinctive view on the terrorist attacks in Paris. Everybody already knew that she has a distinctive stance on immigration, muslims, jews, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and so on.
By deciding not to join the marche, Le Pen undermined all the work done so far to end the marginalisation of the Front National. The Front marginalised itself this time, and it did so for sheer tactical reasons, using silly justifications («We were not invited», as if one had to be invited to a demonstration).
If there was a single golden occasion for the Front to show that it had become a reliable political force and for Le Pen to present itself as a credible presidential candidate, it was this one. Everyone was in the streets, except for Le Pen and the extremist islamists. The variety and amount of people demonstrating could be easily labelled as “France” altogether: the people who chose not to demonstrate could be labelled as “not France”. Le Pen’s adversaries in 2017 elections will no doubt remind voters where Le Pen was the day when the entire country rallied together. For a party struggling to become mainstream, no bigger mistake could be made.