A longtime journalist for the conservative daily Le Figaro, Mr. Zemmour has become a best-selling author over the past decade with books describing a declining France threatened by what he claimed to be an Islam that does not share the fundamental values of France. His fame and influence reached another level after becoming the star of CNews in 2019, where, every prime-time evening, he pitched his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers.
He presented himself as a revealer of the truth in a media dominated by politically correct and leftist journalists. He has spoken out against the immigration of Muslim Africans, citing the supposed existential threat of a “great replacement” – a loaded term that even Ms. Le Pen has avoided – that will overwhelm France’s more established white and Christian population.
Over the weekend, Mr Zemmour said that, if he was president, he would ban “non-French” first names like Mohammed and Kevin, as they created obstacles to a process of assimilation that turned immigrants into what he considered to be true French. .
This kind of comment has sometimes attracted the attention of the French authorities. In May, the government broadcasting regulator fined CNews 200,000 euros, or about $ 236,000, for speech inciting racial hatred. In his September 2020 broadcast, Zemmour said unaccompanied foreign minors should be deported from France, calling them “thieves”, “killers” and “rapists”.
Some Republican presidential candidates rejected Mr. Zemmour’s challenge. Xavier Bertrand, the head of a region in northern France, said Zemmour was a “big divider”. Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region, said he had made “no real proposals”.
Mr Lebourg, the political scientist, said that Mr Zemmour’s “ethnic nationalism” was rooted in the ideology of the National Front of the 1990s, the predecessor of the National Rally led by Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Stylo . More than any other individual, Mr. Zemmour has succeeded over the years in imposing his vision on mainstream right-wing politicians, Mr. Lebourg said.
Supporters say that is why Zemmour is the only candidate who can appeal to both the traditional right and the far right.