French election: American conservatives should support Macron

He is the candidate of economic opportunity, and he's no friend to Putin.

Thus ends the first round of the two-step French presidential election. Beating the expectations of pollsters, centrist Emmanuel Macron eked out a win over Marine Le Pen. The two will now go head-to-head in a winner-take-all runoff on May 7.

With François Fillon (the GOP-equivalent candidate) now defeated, American conservatives might wonder who to support. After all, Macron is a former member of France's current socialist government, and Le Pen is avowedly pro-Trump.

The answer: Macron.

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First off, Macron's economic policies are the more conservative. Like Trump, Le Pen supports protectionism and robust protections for the entitlement state, but she also wants expanded welfare benefits, a reduction in France's already unaffordable retirement age, and the retention of a 35-hour working week. Le Pen claims she will pay for all this with efficiency savings. Good luck. But that's just the start. Le Pen's National Front party also wants import tariffs to protect lethargic French industries from competition.

This is socialism. It would mean higher living costs for families, ballooning deficit spending, and more barriers to first-time employment for younger workers. Conversely, Macron has promised reforms to encourage entrepreneurial risk taking and to unshackle private-sector businesses from France's constricting labor laws. Put simply, Macron is the candidate of economic opportunity; Le Pen is the candidate of special interests. Millennial conservatives have particular reason to support the former, in the sense that their futures depend on creative destruction born of fields such as those in the sharing industry.

Second, where Le Pen fetishizes national division, Macron speaks of patriotism joined to opportunity. Even as words alone, this is a political narrative that France desperately needs. As Andrew Hussey explains in his 2014 book, The French Intifada, many young French Muslims feel that their citizenry exists on paper only — that when it comes to education, opportunity, and respect, their country has no interest in them. American conservatives should be alarmed by that sentiment. The glory of American patriotism is its combination of shared opportunity and personal responsibility. Indeed, American Muslims' patriotism is proof that Le Pen is wrong. It shows that where expectations are matched to opportunity, nationalism can be inclusive.

There's a broader ideological issue in play here. As I wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, Le Pen's obsession with identity politics galvanizes her base but alienates everyone else. Some American conservatives think that Le Pen's beliefs are similar to Trump's, but they're not. Where Trumpism consists of chameleon political expediency, Le Pen-ism is grounded in the purity of sectarian anger. Trump flirts with sectarian rhetoric, but he corrals it to themes of crime, employment, and trade. Le Pen's identity politics run far deeper. Her speeches are webbed together by a thinly veiled disgust for French citizens of colonial ancestry. It's a telling differential between Trump and Le Pen. Where candidate Trump pledged to increase social mobility for American minorities, Le Pen uses minorities as a whipping horse to pleasure her base. Earlier this month, Le Pen promised to transfer government funds away from what she described as drug-addled, crime-ridden suburbs and toward rural areas. Regardless, her tone is always clear: The young Muslim men of Clichy-sous-Bois, where riots seized international headlines in 2005, are to be reproached. The empowered pure offer national salvation.

"When it comes to U.S. security interests, Le Pen might as well be an American adversary. She wants to abandon NATO and cozy up to Putin."

This is not to say that France does not need to crack down on criminality and terrorism. It does — urgently. But confronting terrorists and organized crime gangs won't do much good if the means of doing so drive future generations into those same endeavors.

Finally, when it comes to U.S. security interests, Le Pen might as well be an American adversary. Yes, she wants to leave the bureaucratic and illiberal European Union. But Le Pen also wants to abandon NATO and cozy up to President Putin. Hers is a pathetic mix of Gaullism and appeasement. Don't believe me? Read her policy platform and look at this photo.

Macron, however, pledges to improve France's security and intelligence apparatus. Expect, for example, increased French special-operations deployments alongside U.S. military forces. He has also shown admirable courage in condemning Putin's harassment. If American conservatives truly care about human freedom and the basic rule of law, their support for Macron must be a given.

This isn't a complex choice. Neither Le Pen nor Macron is a true conservative, but the latter is far closer to conservatism than the former is. Without Lafayette and France, the United States would probably have died in its infancy. Our close ally deserve better than Le Pen.

Commentary by Tom Rogan, a columnist for Opportunity Lives and National Review Online. He is a former panelist on "The McLaughlin Group" and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRTweets.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

Copyright 2017 National Review. Used with permission.

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