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Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial father of France’s far-right National Front, on Saturday voiced his support for billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump’s insurgent bid for the White House. The de

facto endorsement insinuates an unflattering – and unsought – connection between Trump and Le Pen, a known racist who was expelled last year from the National Front for his inflammatory rhetoric.

“If I were American, I would vote Donald Trump,” he wrote in French on Twitter on Saturday in French. “But may God protect him!”

Le Pen has advocated a view of the “inequality of the races” and has downplayed the significance of the Holocaust. He has also been charged with inciting violence against Muslims.

If I were American, I would vote Donald Trump. But may God protect him!
Jean-Marie Le Pen

Under the direction of his daughter, Marine Le Pen, the National Front has sought to move into mainstream French political life and has seen growing electoral legitimacy in recent years. But the party’s calls for increased border security have been sharply denounced by critics who accuse party leaders of peddling racially tinged, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideas.

Many of Trump’s critics have accused him of xenophobia, pointing to his proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the country and his calls to deport 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Trump has strongly dismissed those accusations, pointing to his business relationships with diverse parties. The billionaire grew frustrated on Friday when reporters pressed him on a recent endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, an American white nationalist.

“David Duke endorsed me? Okay, all right. I disavow, okay?” Trump said.

Trump has sought to move beyond those accusations as he moves closer to securing the GOP nomination. The Republican establishment has watched Trump’s rise with apprehension, fearful that his sharp language on immigration reform – which is popular among some Republicans but regarded with suspicion on the left – will doom the party’s chances to win the White House during the general election.

Meanwhile, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, honoured in the US for his backing of efforts to tackle global terrorism, weighed in by saying he believes Trump is too unstable to hold office.

“My natural inclination would be to see a Republican in the White House, but I tremble at the thought of Trump being president,” Howard said. “There’s an instability about him that bothers me.”

Howard, who won four elections and served in office from 1996 to 2007 to become Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister, said that despite his reservations over Trump’s sometimes “brusque” demeanour, the contender’s popularity was understandable.

“He’s doing well because he’s saying things that a lot of people think should be said, that the current political class aren’t willing to say,” said Howard, awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2009. “In part, his success is emblematic of people’s frustration with political correctness.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg