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Family Dispute Tears At France's Far-Right National Front

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

There's a family feud going down in France. Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front, is battling the co-founder of the far right political party, who also happens to be her dad. Last week, Jean-Marie Le Pen repeated an inflammatory remark about the Holocaust he's made before - that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere detail of history. His remark came at a time when his daughter has been pushing the party into the mainstream. Stanford professor Cecile Alduy has written a book about Marine Le Pen and the new direction of the National Front, and she joins me from her home in Paris. Welcome to the program.

CECILE ALDUY: Hi.

KEITH: What has Marine Le Pen's reaction to her father's statement been?

ALDUY: Well, she took a very strong stance and decided to convoke a disciplinary meeting at the headquarters of the National Front to reprimand officially and potentially exclude her father from the party he himself created 40 years ago.

KEITH: She put out a statement that said, quote, "her father seems to have entered a veritable spiral between a scorched-earth strategy and a political suicide." That's...

ALDUY: Yeah.

KEITH: ...Not making peace there, certainly.

ALDUY: No. I think that she was pushed by circumstances - by her father's declarations - to take a very strong stance, not only because of what he said about the Holocaust, but also because of an interview he gave in an anti-Semitic, far-right weekly Rivarol, where he attacked her new political line and specifically her economic agenda, which is more leftist, if you wish, than his. And she cannot afford to have internal rivalries within her party at a moment which is critical before major elections both in December and in 2017, when it's the presidential race.

KEITH: What changes has Marine Le Pen made to the National Front since her father stepped down as head in 2011? Does the party have more popular support as a result of that?

ALDUY: It's a change in the strategy and in the goals of the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen's strategy was to exist in the media by making these political statements and drawing attention to himself. But those political statements also forbid him from winning a larger electorate, so he was plateauing around 18 percent. Marine Le Pen, when she took over the party in 2011, decided that what she wanted to do with that is win the presidential elections one day and sooner than later. And for this, she knew she had to detoxify, if you want, the negative image of the party and make it more mainstream in appearance. And for this, she has softened the rhetoric of the National Front, and she has tried to position herself in favor of state intervention to kind of seduce a popular electorate, which has been disappointed by the left and does not know where to go anymore to cast their votes.

KEITH: Do you think she's actually changed the party or remade the party, or do you think that she's put some makeup on it?

ALDUY: You know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig, as people say. And the fact is I did this book, which analyzes 500 public speeches by the father and the daughter to try to answer that very question and see their real difference in essence between the two politicians. And once you scratch the surface and look beyond the style - a more moderate style on the side of Marine Le Pen and a more brutal style on this side of Jean-Marie Le Pen - you discover - or you don't discover, but reaffirm that the political line has not changed. And more importantly, the political platform that is proposed to the voters has not changed at all.

KEITH: Cecile Alduy is the author of "Marine Le Pen's Words: Decoding The New National Front Discourse." Thank you so much.

ALDUY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.