John Fund of National Review Online examines major political changes influencing the French presidential race.

Only a decade ago, France’s two traditional major parties — the conservative Republicans and the Socialists — won 57 percent of the vote between them in the first round of the country’s presidential elections. On Sunday, both parties together won less than half that — only 26 percent. Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old independent who placed first in this year’s round, declared that the nation had “discarded” the two once-dominant parties.

Now France will have two weeks of ferocious fighting between the two finalists — Macron and the populist National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Supporters of Le Pen note that her 22 percent of the vote was a significant improvement over past National Front showings and predict that a rising tide of disgust against “arrogant elites” will carry her to victory in the May 7 runoff. Indeed, she did make clear that she offered “a fundamental choice” between French sovereignty and what she called the “forces of globalization and open borders.” By contrast, Macron spoke in vague terms about how he stood for French “patriotism” rather than “anti-European nationalism.” …

… The reason that Le Pen probably has a ceiling is simple. François Fillon, the conservative who came in third in the first round, with 20 percent, put it simply when he advised his backers to vote for Macron on May 7. “The National Front’s history is marked by violence and ignorance,” he said. “Extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right.”