A reporter’s dream came true in the US capital this Wednesday: the hasty jump into a Washington DC cab followed by the cry of “follow that car!” That car was the big black SUV used by French presidential candidate and National Front leader Marine Le Pen during the first leg of her visit of the United States.
The controversial far-right leader wants to use this trip to look presidential first of all, but also to come across as less radical than her father and predecessor Jean-Marie Le Pen. Hence the first elements of her schedule on this crisp fall morning: a meeting with “a member of the black community” followed by a meeting with “a representative of the Jewish community”. Those are the words used by her public affairs team.
Neither takes place. Instead, the horde of French journalists waiting outside her hotel gets a glimpse of what’s in store: a chaotic “visit of Washington”. And that’s where that big black SUV comes in. The FRANCE 24 team makes it into the closest taxi, we follow the big car ahead, and then lose sight of it. May the game of hide and seek begin.
Rumours abound that Le Pen might be heading to the Holocaust Museum but that’s one controversial visit that won’t happen this time around. Instead, the Capitol becomes the centerpiece of this whirlwind campaign swing to Washington. Meeting political leaders is a crucial element of this trip, and who better than a darling of the Tea Party, the most conservative of them all? In the words of Marine Le Pen, “I have seen in their emergence a parallel with the National Front.”
For weeks, a meeting had been planned with Congressman Ron Paul, Tea Party favourite and Republican presidential candidate. But “for scheduling reasons”, the meeting is now not to take place after all. He is not even in Washington, we are told.
Having lost sight of the black SUV with the darkened windows, we go to Ron Paul’s office. It’s what’s called a stake-out in journalist jargon. Ron Paul, supposedly not in Washington at all, appears to be joining in our game of hide and seek. But there he is, leaving his office to vote in the House of Representatives, just as Marine Le Pen arrives and takes a seat in his waiting room. She waits for forty minutes and gets her meeting with Mr Paul, though only for a measly five minutes.
It’s a bit of a victory for Marine Le Pen, who accuses the French journalists of trying to “make her trip look like a fiasco before it even begins.” There’s no photo opportunity though, no handshake between two presidential candidates.
Le Pen has more tricks up her sleeve. A “press conference on the world economic situation” is scheduled in front of the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF doesn’t know about this but Le Pen still finds time to give reporters her vision of “the failure of the euro.” She also predicts another failure, that of the ongoing G20 summit in Cannes.
Marine Le Pen’s mystery tour of the US now continues in New York and Florida.
In 1987, her father, in a publicity coup, met Ronald Reagan. Marine Le Pen though, will not be meeting Barack Obama. He is in her home country, at the G20 summit in Cannes.