When It Comes to Muslim Baiting, Trump Is Too Strong for Le Pen

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Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front (FN) political party, takes part in a voting session at the European Parliament, of which she is also a member, in Strasbourg, France, on December 17. Le Pen slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States. She insists that the National Front is opposed not to Muslims but to Islamic radicalism. Vincent Kessler/Reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

The far-right National Front (FN) is making gains in France in the wake of last month's attacks in Paris. Its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, kept his party on the political fringes for decades thanks to his Holocaust-denying comments and his defense of Marshal Pétain, the leader of France's Nazi-allied Vichy regime.

Today, his daughter, Marine, is working to bring the party into the mainstream, though she has inherited her father's penchant for inflammatory remarks. For instance, she once said the presence of Muslim immigrants in local communities is "like Nazi occupation."

But she insists that the National Front is opposed not to Muslims but to Islamic radicalism. "We are fighting against Islamism, not Islam," she has said.

And as she campaigns for the French presidency, she is portraying herself as the defender of France against a migrant onslaught. "They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees?" Le Pen asked in a recent campaign appearance. "They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here."

Sound like someone running for president here in America?

Well, Le Pen is having none of that.

It was little noted, but the National Front leader recently slammed GOP front-runner Donald Trump's plan to bar Muslims from entering the country, saying this was a bridge too far. The New York Times reported: "Mr. Trump [has]…evoked comparisons to Ms. Le Pen and her European counterparts with his call to close American borders to all Muslims 'until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.'"

Le Pen said that was too much for her, perhaps in part because she feared jeopardizing the progress she had made in shedding her party's previous image as racist and anti-Semitic.

"Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?" she asked on December 11 when questioned about Trump's comments during a television interview. "I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion."

So that's where we are in the GOP presidential race: The Republican front-runner's position on Muslim immigration is too radical even for the leader of the French National Front, who compares Muslim immigration to the Nazi occupation of France.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.