He was the candidate she feared the most. Not only could he unify his own party, but he could siphon crucial votes from her conservative Catholic base. And now that François Fillon won yesterday's "right and center" primary ahead of next year's presidential election, the far-right French leader Marine Le Pen must shift her strategy.
The low-key Fillon, 62, who served as prime minister from 2007-2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy, outmaneuvered both Sarkozy and favorite Alain Juppé, by appealing to social conservatives and pious Catholics upset about France's new same-sex marriage law. But as an outspoken admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Fillon has also vowed to bring free-market economics to a country largely built on a state-centered economy supported by leaders of both left and right.
His plans to do away with the 35-hour week, including for state-employees, and slash half-a-million state sector jobs would be seen largely as a kind of "shock therapy" that Fillon's opponents, both inside and outside his party, have described as "brutal" and "unworkable."
Le Pen, already desperate to "de-demonize" her image, will use her protectionist and nationalist economic program to seduce the working-class and paint Fillon as the candidate of high finance and corporations.
The triumph of Fillon, paradoxically, might give a new purpose to a devastated Left, with the ruling Socialist party more eager to bash its opponents than talk about its own, dismal, record of the past five years of François Hollande. Unless, of course, the Left gets hijacked by its own free-market advocate, the young and ambitious Emmanuel Macron.