Why Macron Won: Luck, Skill and France’s Dark History

Mr. Macron, on the other hand, demonstrated a quality that French voters, unlike many Anglo-Saxon ones, have long found essential in their successful candidates: cool mastery of the critical issues confronting the country. Where Ms. Le Pen repeatedly lost herself in the weeds, Mr. Macron sailed right through them. Whether he will now be able to translate that knowledge into action is another question.

So far he has been the beneficiary of spectacular luck.

Four months ago he was polling a distant third, an all-but-certain loser whose maverick, nonparty movement was considered promising for the future but unripe. The soaring banality of his rhetoric appeared to turn off as many voters as it inspired. His rallies began in enthusiasm but soon sagged under the weight of his speechifying.

But that was before the center-right front-runner François Fillon imploded under the weight of an embezzlement scandal, fueling Mr. Macron’s rise in the general election in April and into the final pairing with Ms. Le Pen. Many Fillon voters turned reluctantly to Mr. Macron on Sunday, rejecting Ms. Le Pen, who had made a concerted pitch for voters of Mr. Mélenchon, the fourth-place finisher, who advocated a similar anticapitalist platform. And Mr. Macron was lucky to face Ms. Le Pen, a candidate considered simply unacceptable by a majority of the French.

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Mr. Macron with President François Hollande, center, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2015. Mr. Macron had been Mr. Hollande’s economy minister.

Credit
Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But he also played his limited hand with great skill from the beginning, outmaneuvering his elders. First, he wisely renounced the man who had given him his break, the deeply unpopular Socialist president François Hollande, quitting his post as economy minister in Mr….

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