It’s easy to see parallels between President Donald Trump and France’s presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. They’re both populist politicians who have railed against free trade, talk tough on immigration, have questioned the role of NATO, and advocate closer ties to Russia.
But Anderson Cooper, who interviewed Le Pen for this week’s 60 Minutes, says not so fast.
“It’s too easy to just say Marine Le Pen is France’s Donald Trump,” Cooper tells 60 Minutes Overtime’s Ann Silvio in the video posted above. “It’s not that simple.”
For starters, Trump was a political outsider, whereas Le Pen has been steeped in politics since childhood. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, ran for president five times and is notorious in France for remarks widely seen as racist and anti-Semitic.
“Her father is a reviled figure in France,” says Cooper. “Marine Le Pen said that when she was a kid, her teachers used to take their hatred of her father out on her. And so she had to develop this toughness early on-- and you do feel that.”
“...it’s just interesting the kind of frenzy and the furor and, in many cases, fear that follow her wherever she goes.”
Cooper, who has spent time interviewing both Mr. Trump and Le Pen, sees a marked difference between their personalities and campaign styles.
“In a personal way, they really could not be any more different,” Cooper says. “Donald Trump is a charismatic figure. Charming when he wants to be.” Also, his ability to speak extemporaneously in interviews and speeches is a big part of his appeal to his supporters.
“She is much more practiced,” Cooper says. “Everything about her presentation is very practiced. She’s a politician. She’s a professional politician.” After spending time with her for this week’s 60 Minutes story, Cooper says he couldn’t get a strong sense of Le Pen as a person.
Still, Cooper feels Le Pen and her presidential campaign in France are worth watching — and worthy of a 60 Minutes profile.
“She’s a fascinating character,” Cooper says. A character, he learned, who sees herself as part of a growing tide of nationalism that is skeptical of free trade and open borders sweeping the West, after Britain’s vote to leave the E.U. and the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S.
Le Pen sees the modern political fault lines not as left vs. right, but rather, she says, between those who support what she calls “wild, savage globalization” and those who don’t.
Le Pen says this “savage globalization” has ravaged France’s economy, stripped France of its sovereignty and led to an influx of immigrants that she believes are changing the national character of the country. And while she isn’t talking of building a wall, she advocates much tougher immigration laws, and a radical shift in France’s foreign policy, including renegotiating its place in the European Union, or else holding a referendum to leave altogether.
French journalist Thierry Arnaud says if Le Pen wins the presidency, the impact could soon be felt across Europe.
“The potential result of Marine Le Pen winning this presidential election is the end of the European Union as we know it,” Arnaud tells Cooper in the clip above. “The end of 27 countries being closely united in a number of areas. And the end of the single currency, the euro.”
Arnaud says that, like Trump, Le Pen is succeeding by painting a dark vision, a vision that appeals to people who feel that their way of life, their culture, is disappearing.
“And what Marine Le Pen is telling those people is, ‘I’m the one who can bring it back.’”
But as Cooper and the 60 Minutes crew discovered, the French are decidedly mixed in their opinion of Le Pen. While filming an interview with Le Pen outside the building she grew up in, a crowd gathered, stunned to see her in person. After Le Pen left, a woman walking her dog approached Cooper to tell him, as he recalls, that Le Pen “will never be president of France. We hate her”
“Now, that’s just one person,” Cooper says, “but it’s just interesting the kind of frenzy and the furor and, in many cases, fear that follow her wherever she goes.”
The video above was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando, and edited by Lisa Orlando. Will Croxton and Sarah Shafer Prediger contributed.