French far-right contender Zemmour: Trump told me to stay true to myself

French far-right presidential candidate Zemmour holds political rally in Lille
French far-right commentator Eric Zemmour, leader of far-right party "Reconquete!" and candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, holds a campaign rally in Lille, France, February 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/

PARIS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Donald Trump has told French far-right presidential challenger Eric Zemmour, whose nationalist programme is shaping a divisive campaign race, to stay strong and true to his convictions, Zemmour said.

Zemmour's campaign team said the two had a 40-minute phone call late Monday. Like Trump, Zemmour has positioned himself as a political outsider, banking instead on his celebrity status and no-nonsense language.

"He told me to remain who I am, that the media would call me brutal but that what mattered was to stay true to myself," Zemmour told reports on Tuesday.

Trump however avoided giving Zemmour his backing, saying that "(French President Emmanuel) Macron is a nice guy", French daily Le Parisien and BFM television reported on Tuesday, citing a witness to the call.

Trump, a real estate mogul and reality TV star before his term in the White House, has not officially endorsed Zemmour, Randy Yaloz from the Republican Party's overseas group told BFM TV. Yaloz said he was in the room with Zemmour during the call.

Trump's representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Zemmour, 63, has said France needs saving from a downward spiral he blames largely on what he describes as unfettered immigration and the increasing influence of Islam on French society. He holds several convictions for inciting racial hate.

Zemmour said he told Trump that both their countries faced a "battle of civilisation".

"We share the same ideas, namely that the United States should remain the United States and France should remain France," he added.

The two discussed immigration, security and their countries' respective economies, Zemmour's campaign team said in a statement.

Trump's 2016 presidential run is often cited as a blueprint for the campaign of Zemmour, a writer and polemicist who wants to unite far-right and staunchly conservative voters who have traditionally voted for the mainstream centre-right.

Opinion polls show Zemmour closing the gap on Conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse and Marine Le Pen, leader of France's traditional far-right Rassemblement National party, for a place in April's run-off vote. Macron, who has yet to formally declare his candidacy, leads the race, polls show.

In her 2017 presidential campaign, Le Pen sought to display her proximity to Trump when she travelled to his Manhattan business headquarters, but left the place discretely when nobody received her. Le Pen sought to downplay Zemmour's contact with Trump. "I wanted to meet him before he was president. To be honest, that's more interesting than to do so afterwards," she told reporters.

Reporting by Tassilo Hummel Editing by Richard Lough, Tomasz Janowski and Mark Heinrich

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