The Slatest

Trump Expresses Support for Le Pen. Is That Good or Bad for Her? [Updated]

A woman passes in front of a wall with a graffiti depicting Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump in Paris on April 8, 2017.

Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

It’s not exactly shocking that President Trump is a fan of France’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU, Muslim-bashing presidential contender Marine Le Pen. It’s still a little surprising to say so this explicitly just a few days before the French election in an interview with the AP:

“She’s the strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” Trump said in the Oval Office interview. “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”

The AP notes that “U.S. presidents typically avoid weighing in on specific candidates running in overseas election.” It’s not quite unheard of, though. In a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year, President Obama joked, “You know, if I were here and I were German and I had to vote, I might support her. But it’s ― I don’t know whether that hurts or helps.”

French President Francois Hollande made a similar remark in 2012 when asked about the upcoming election between Obama and Mitt Romney, saying. “I’m careful to say nothing because you can imagine if a Socialist were to support one of the two candidates that might be to his detriment. So I suppose I should endorse Mitt Romney. But I won’t.”

As for Le Pen, she said last summer that she would vote for Trump if she were American, and later praised his victory as part of “a great movement across the world, ” including Brexit and her own candidacy.

It’s unclear if Trump’s support will help or hurt Le Pen at this stage in the campaign. The U.S. president is dismally unpopular in France. A Pew poll last year found that 85 percent of French had “no confidence” in his ability to handle world affairs and another poll found that 75 percent “dislike” him.

Presumably those numbers are higher within Le Pen’s base, but a reminder of the association may not help her win over anyone on the fence in these last few days.

Update, Apr. 24: The full transcript of the AP interview makes clear that while Trump called Le Pen the “strongest” candidate and predicted she would do well, he also said “I am not endorsing her.” This post’s headlines have been updated accordingly.