Jordan Bardella: the far-right TikTok king gunning for France’s premiership

The 28-year-old National Rally president has outshone his mentor Marine Le Pen on the campaign trail

National Rally's president Jordan Bardella waves during a campaign meeting in Paris on June 2nd. Photograph: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

Jordan Bardella may lack the kind of experience and credentials that French voters traditionally expect in their governing class, but he does have a chart-topping TikTok feed.

The 28-year-old has skillfully used his social media channels to expand the appeal of his far-right National Rally (RN) party particularly among the young, propelling it to a crushing victory over Emmanuel Macron’s centrists in EU elections.

Now potentially on the brink of power, after Macron’s shock decision to dissolve parliament and call a snap parliamentary vote, Bardella – RN’s president since 2022 – is keen to project a sober image.

“We are ready to govern,” he told RTL in an interview on Tuesday, dressed in his trademark slim, dark suit and tie. And what about voters who still fear the far-right’s rise to power? “Times have changed,” Bardella said.


Marine Le Pen, the RN’s leader who plucked Bardella from relative obscurity as a young party activist to mould him into a potent weapon, has said he is the “natural candidate” to be prime minister if she were to become president.

Who is Jordan Bardella, the young face of the French far right?Opens in new window ]

That timetable may have been drastically accelerated by Macron’s gamble on early elections: if the RN wins big, Bardella could be in Matignon, the premier’s office, after the July 7th vote and running the domestic affairs of the euro zone’s second-largest economy.

With Le Pen, he forms a complementary duo that is fuelling the RN’s ascendancy in France. Bardella embodies the milder, more acceptable face of the new RN that Le Pen has spent more than a decade fashioning, but unlike her, his age allows him to behave as if unencumbered by the party’s racist and xenophobic past.

He also does not carry the baggage of the Le Pen name, which for some voters is still associated with the politics of her father. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party previously known as the National Front, and was convicted of hate speech for calling the Holocaust “a detail of history”.

But now the toxicity once associated with the senior Le Pen has faded in many voters’ minds, and the slick Bardella has played a major part in the daughter’s push to normalise the image of the party.

An early opinion poll by Harris Interactive published on Monday said the RN could capture the most seats in the lower house, far ahead of Macron’s grouping, though short of a majority. If they managed to win 289 seats in the 577-strong assembly, Bardella would be named prime minister, forcing Macron into a power-sharing government known as a “cohabitation”.

National Rally leaders Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a European elections campaign meeting in Paris on June 2nd. Photograph: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

Bardella has turbocharged his popularity by becoming the French political equivalent of the TikTok king. He has a strong following of 1.5 million on the social media platform popular among teenagers and young people. While below Macron’s 4.5 million followers, the far-right leader eclipses other prominent politicians including Le Pen and prime minister Gabriel Attal – who has only 297,000 followers.

Bardella’s videos range from statesmanlike addresses about the cost of living to rowdy campaign videos. In one recent post, he poses for selfies in a crowd of young supporters wearing sunglasses with “The J” emblazoned across the lenses.

In another clip of a recent debate on France Inter radio during the European election, Bardella speaks calmly about what he describes as uncontrolled immigration while his opponent Raphael Glucksmann shouts over him. “Those who advocate for mass immigration ... are not the ones who have to live with it [because] they live in privileged areas,” he states, singling out Glucksmann, who grew up in a family of well-known Paris intellectuals.

Charisma and careful words of Bardella convey extreme right-wing ideas to increasingly sympathetic French publicOpens in new window ]

“All the suckers who support him, you don’t understand that his far-right party has dictatorial ideas,” wrote one commenter.

“Jordan Bardella is the only candidate who can save our country,” wrote another, punctuating the message with three heart emojis in red, white and blue.

With each election, the RN’s results have improved: the party led by Bardella in Sunday’s European Parliament election won twice as many votes as Macron’s Renaissance and 9 per cent more than in 2019. In the presidential vote, Le Pen reached 41 per cent against Macron in 2022, up from 34 per cent in the same match-up in 2017.

The young politician has perfected the storytelling around his public persona. Although he and the RN are staunchly anti-immigration, he proclaims his family’s Italian roots.

He speaks often of growing up in social housing with a single mother who struggled to provide for him in the poor, immigrant suburb of Saint-Denis, north of Paris.

The truth is slightly different: he did not grow up in poverty since his father ran his own business and sent him to private schools, according to French media.

In a French political class that prizes diplomas from École Normale Supérieure and Sciences Po, Bardella stands out for having dropped out of geography studies at the Sorbonne. He went into RN politics at the age of 17 and has not worked in a corporate setting or other profession.

Yet Bardella is a gifted communicator, able to convey the RN’s ideas to supporters who celebrate him like a pop star. His campaign rallies are boisterous affairs that attract young crowds with pumping music and beer on tap. The audience acclaims him with shouts of “Jordan, Jordan, Jordan!” and demand selfies at the end.

Janan Ganesh: Macron’s election call is an act of cool logicOpens in new window ]

Public setbacks do not seem to chip away at his popularity. Pundits proclaimed Bardella to have lost in a recent TV debate against Attal, when the RN leader appeared short on detail and imprecise on his party’s immigration plans. But the polls went up in his favour in the following days.

Lately he has sought to network with the business community, which has long been wary of the far right, and has made inroads with small company owners. There have been hints that his views on the economy are more liberal and free market than Le Pen’s, who has positioned herself as more of a big-state populist to win working-class voters.

Observers have predicted that Le Pen and Bardella will eventually turn on each other, especially as Bardella’s popularity eclipses hers. Macron’s entourage has subtly sought to drive a wedge between them by praising Bardella in off-the-record comments to the French press. Bardella will have ambitions for 2027 himself, they suggest.

So far the pair of RN leaders have been in lockstep.

Bardella has a large portrait of him and Le Pen smiling together hanging in his office. He still uses the formal “vous” to address her.

In an interview with the Financial Times in December, Bardella said there was “no rivalry between us for one simple reason: she alone created this duo”.

“I owe her a large part of what I am today and we work very smoothly together. We would not grant others the spectacle of a division between us. Only those who don’t know us think we would.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024

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