Americans haven’t heard much lately from Barack Obama about the big debates in U.S. politics, but the former president decided to weigh in on the upcoming election in France, releasing a video in support of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron:
Macron, who has a healthy lead over his far-right rival Marine Le Pen heading into Sunday’s runoff, has gone out of his way to associate himself with Obama before. His campaign was run by three young French political consultants who got their starts as volunteers on Obama’s 2008 campaign and imported Obama-style campaign tactics that combine heavy use of data with door-to-door canvassing. U.S. reporters frequently describe an Obamaesque vibe among his young volunteers in matching T-shirts.
Macron also touted a phone call he had received from Obama ahead of the first round of the election last month. Making the U.S. parallels even more explicit, Le Pen received a quasi-endorsement from Donald Trump, who praised her stances on borders and terrorism.
It makes sense that Macron, a young, center-left candidate running on a platform of reform, would want the association. Obama was extremely popular in France, particularly toward the end of his presidency. A Pew poll last summer found that 84 percent of French respondents had confidence in him, compared with just 9 percent for then candidate Trump. A group of pranksters in Paris even ran a mock campaign for Obama to be president of France, complete with “Oui On Peut” posters and an online petition signed by more than 43,000 people.
On the other hand, a U.S. president’s support is unlikely to win over any undecided voters who are flirting with Le Pen’s overt nationalism or who are turned off by Macron, the technocratic, internationalist defender of liberal status-quo. And as Ishaan Tharoor notes, Obama’s outspoken support for the “remain” camp in last year’s Brexit referendum may have backfired by allowing the “leave” side to portray themselves as defenders of British sovereignty against international pressure—an appeal very similar to Le Pen’s.
The election is probably not going to be close enough for Obama’s intervention to make a difference either way—unless, of course, the pollsters are dramatically wrong once again.