Voters are fed up and they're not going to take it anymore.
The Brexit earthquake in the United Kingdom sent shock waves around the globe that continue to reverberate. While not the first time a recent European election had resulted in populist outcome, Britain's decision to leave the European Union was the event that put on the map for many the rising tide of populism in the West. American political junkies now watch with great interest the events across the Atlantic, trying to read into the results of things like Italy's weekend decision to reject constitutional reforms proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
France's Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, is often compared to Donald Trump. The National Front invokes nationalism, anxiety about Islam and frustration with global elites to fuel a message that is decidedly anti-establishment and populist. (Le Pen celebrated Trump's victory by saying it "shows that people are taking their future back.") In an era where voters across the West seem to be bucking establishment leaders and safe outcomes, Le Pen's message will likely carry her to the final head-to-head round of France's presidential elections in the spring.
But in the upcoming French presidential elections, there's more than one candidate trying to tap into the vein of anti-establishment frustration. If Le Pen is the French avatar for the forces that have boosted Trump here in the U.S., there is another French presidential candidate — the 38-year-old Emmanuel Macron — who may present an example for those who concur that voters should be angry at the status quo but would prefer a counterweight to Trumpism that embraces, rather than rejects, market liberalism and forces like technological advancement.
Macron, who has never been elected to office, came from the world of banking to serve French President Francois Hollande as an adviser for economics and technology. Despite serving a Socialist president, Macron became known for his push to reform France's economic growth-inhibiting policies such as the 35-hour work week and strict professional licensing regulations. He advised Hollande against confiscatory tax rates on incomes over a million euro and promoted the ability of companies such as Uber to compete against entrenched industries.
These efforts were met with vigorous protest and strikes from labor unions. It is not hard to see why Macron did not simply wait in line to one day win the nomination of the Socialist Party, and why he struck out on his own, launching his own party, "En Marche!" (or On the Move!).
Macron does not have an obvious American political counterpart in the way that many compare Le Pen with Trump. There are some elements of Trump's message that can be found in Macron's, such as his lack of electoral experience, disdain for both parties and "the system," and his positioning of himself as anti-establishment. But though Macron often uses rhetoric about the need for bold change and the anger voters feel, he does not direct that anger at the same targets Le Pen might choose. (Elites yes, immigrants no.)
In some ways, Macron is an Obama-like figure, young, attractive, coming out of the political left with a cosmopolitan cultural worldview and aiming to make a splash by building a grassroots movement. And of course, there's the support for entrepreneurship and deregulation which would probably bring a smile to House Speaker Paul Ryan's face.
At only 38 years old and with this being his first foray into running for office, it will be interesting to see how Macron's positioning changes over time. But Macron's positioning in France today is about pulling together those from the right and left who oppose the direction of nationalists like Le Pen who, though ostensibly on the far right, may also find herself drawing support from unusual pockets across the political spectrum.
Le Figaro calls him, roughly, "anti-system, but reasonable about it." It isn't clear how much of a market there is for this sort of Diet Populism. ("All the railing against elites, none of the ethnic political signaling!") No one in the U.S. seems interested right now in standing up and defending things like startups and free movement of goods and labor in a moment when swinging hammers and closing borders are in vogue. But the French presidential election will be an interesting time to see if the brand of forward-looking, market-oriented anti-establishmentarianism that Macron espouses today has any buyers, and whether it might be a model for being a counterweight to the more nostalgic strain of populism gripping the West.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote."