WASHINGTON—Former President Barack Obama has endorsed a candidate in the race for France’s presidency, taking his first dive back into international politics since leaving the White House in January.
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron released a video from Obama Thursday morning with the former president touting his candidacy.
“I have admired the campaign that Emmanuel Macron has run,” Obama said. “He has stood up for liberal values; he put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world; and he is committed to a better future for the French people. He appeals to people’s hopes, and not their fears.”
Macron is facing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s runoff vote. Polls suggest Macron is well ahead.
Obama said he doesn’t plan to get involved often in political situations. “I’m not planning to get involved in many elections now that I don’t have to run for office again, but the French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about. Because the success of France matters to the entire world,” he said.
Macron asked Obama for his support, an Obama aide said. Obama called Macron privately in April and praised him, but declined to make an endorsement. But now, Obama decided to weigh in because he believes France’s success impacts international challenges on the global stage, the aide said.
The aide spoke on background because the aide wasn’t authorized to speak about Obama’s deliberations.
Political scientist Dov H. Levin of Carnegie-Mellon University called Obama’s endorsement unusual for a former president. Presidents like Bill Clinton have tried to personally influence elections in places like Russia and Israel while in office, but Levin said he has not come across an instance where a former president has offered an endorsement in a foreign leadership race like Obama.
Levin, who studies U.S. attempts to influence elections in other countries, said it is rare for a former president to have enough popularity or influence in a foreign country for his assistance to even be desired. “My guess is that Macron found that Obama, even as a former president, still has enough cachet, enough influence with French voters to make it worth asking for his endorsement,” Levin said.
Obama ended his message with the words “En Marche,” the name of Macron’s political movement which means “In Motion” in English, and “Vive La France.”
President Donald Trump has praised Macron’s opponent, Le Pen, although he has not explicitly endorsed her.
“She’s the strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” Trump said in an April 21 interview with The Associated Press. “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”
Obama has mostly stayed in the background in American politics since Trump moved into the White House. When congressional Republicans first planned to vote down his signature health care plan, the Affordable Care Act on its seventh anniversary, Obama broke his silence to tout the law’s effectiveness. “Thanks to this law, more than twenty million Americans have gained the security and peace of mind of health insurance,” he said back in March.
House Republicans narrowly approved a bill striking down parts of the law on Thursday.
Obama, through a spokesman, has also criticized Trump’s attempt to ban the entry of citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries into the United States, which was eventually halted by the federal courts.