A longtime journalist for the conservative daily Le Figaro, Mr. Zemmour became a best-selling author in the past decade with books that described a France in decline, under threat from what he claimed was an Islam that doesn’t share France’s core values. His celebrity and influence rose to another level after he became the star of CNews in 2019, where, each evening in prime time, he expounded on his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers.
He has portrayed himself as a truth-teller in a news media dominated by politically correct, left-leaning journalists. He has railed against the immigration of Muslim Africans, invoking the 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 were president, he would ban “non-French” first names like Mohammed and Kevin, because they created obstacles to an assimilation process that used to turn immigrants into what he considered real French people.
These kinds of comments have occasionally drawn the attention of French authorities. In May, the government broadcast regulator fined CNews 200,000 euros, about $236,000, for speech inciting racial hatred. On his show in September 2020, Mr. Zemmour had said that unaccompanied foreign minors should be expelled from France, calling them “thieves,” “killers” and “rapists.”
Some presidential candidates from the Republicans dismissed Mr. Zemmour’s challenge. Xavier Bertrand, the leader of a region in northern France, said that Mr. Zemmour was a “great divider.” Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region, said that he offered “no genuine 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 to the National Rally that was led by Ms. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. More than any other individual, Mr. Zemmour succeeded over the years in imposing his vision on politicians in the traditional right, Mr. Lebourg said.
Supporters say that is why Mr. Zemmour is the only candidate who can appeal to both the traditional right and far right.