After the debate, the dissection: was Emmanuel Macron arrogant or courteous? Was Marine Le Pen dominated or passive?
Hours after the marathon face-off between France’s two presidential contenders on Wednesday evening, the verdict was that Macron had emerged as the winner on the substance and Le Pen held it together on style.
The exchange was a rematch of 2017’s TV debate, during which the far-right leader became aggressive. This time, Le Pen remained calm, though still floundered occasionally. Le Monde likened Macron to a boa constrictor – slowly squeezing his rival to death.
The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said it was overall a satisfactory debate: “If the presidential campaign itself has been disappointing, here we saw the choice between two kinds of France, two different visions,” he told Europe 1.
Jordan Bardella, head of Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party, accused Macron of being the “number one public insult thrower” adding: “When he insults Marine Le Pen as do his supporters, he is really insulting the French.”
Clément Beaune, the Europe minister, accused Le Pen of seeking to organise a Frexit by stealth. “On this subject, it was clear that Marine Le Pen did not have a project and that she had just cut her Frexit into smaller pieces,” he said.
Gabriel Attal, a government spokesperson, said Le Pen had “changed her style but not the substance”. He accused Le Pen of wanting to “divide the French”, echoing Macron’s accusation that her proposed ban on the Islamic headscarf would cause “civil war” in the city suburbs.
About 15.6 million people watched the debate, fewer than in 2017 when 16.6 million viewers tuned in. The figure did not include those watching the debate online.
Pollsters Elabe questioned viewers after the debate and declared that 59% found Macron more convincing compared with 39% for Le Pen. Among supporters of the radical left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose 7.7 million voters both presidential candidates are chasing, the poll found 61% judged Macron convincing against 36% for Le Pen. Only 29% of those asked found the far-right leader displayed “the most qualities necessary to be president”.
Macron was deemed to be more dynamic, slightly more sincere and with the better programme than Le Pen. Half judged Macron to be “more arrogant” than his rival, while Le Pen was considered “worrying” by about half.
Le Monde concluded the debate was once again “a failure” for Le Pen. “Did she give the impression she is ready to govern?” asked Le Parisien in an editorial. “That is the only question that matters. Judging by the debate, she did not dispel the doubts.” Le Figaro concluded the debate would not have changed voters’ intentions.
In a last push to pick up support, Macron was due to visit the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Thursday, while Le Pen headed to northern France for an evening rally in Arras.