Every week, a small group of Marine Le Pen’s aides brainstorm on how to achieve what many say is impossible: change how most French people view her to get her elected president in May.
The “Idea-Image” committee of Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) consists of about 10 party officials and supporters. It held its first meeting in October as the party kicked off its presidential campaigning.
The job of the group is to advise 48-year-old Le Pen and her top campaign officials on a wide range of issues from where to hold rallies and what issues to highlight, to campaign posters, speeches and online campaigns.
While opinions polls predict the leader of the anti-immigration, anti-Europe FN will make it to the election’s second round in May, they see her losing that run-off because a majority of voters still have a negative view of her. The Idea-Image panel’s task is to help change public hearts and minds.
It was in one of those committee meetings that the idea of the #TheTrueFillon campaign was born, he said, referring to when FN officials and supporters spread a series of messages on Twitter attacking conservative candidate Francois Fillon just after he won his party’s nomination in late November.
The online anti-Fillon drive targeted his plans to shrink the public workforce and questioned his credibility on immigration, calling him “the establishment’s new star”.
A key objective of the FN’s strategy is to soften Le Pen’s image and boost her appeal beyond grassroots supporters of the FN.
Since launching her campaign, she has spoken in a TV interview about her love of gardening, her cooking specialty – a traditional Brittany cake with caramelized apples – and her childhood, for example.
Her blog, meanwhile, has showed pictures of the mother-of-three petting kittens and dogs, visiting farms and travelling abroad.
Isabelle Veyrat-Masson, a political communications expert at the CNRS research institute, characterized the strategy as being about the “de-demonization” of Le Pen.
“She wants to show that she is a woman like any other … that she has a heart.”