Meloni and Trump: A Strange Silence (Guest post by Sidney Tarrow)

by Sidney Tarrow

When Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Italy’s “Brothers of Italy” party came first in the Italian national election on September 25th, pundits were quick to underscore her links to America’s panoply of rightwing politicians and media figures. Following her triumph, wrote Yahoo News, “several Republicans praised her win.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hailed the results as  “spectacular,” while Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted that he looked “forward to working with her,” and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga congratulated her on her victory, while Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, called for a Meloni-like future for the United States.

A “revolution?” Carlson might not have noted that Meloni’s party won only 26 percent of the vote, compared to the 19 percent gained by its major center-left opponent, the Democratici, or that she will need to ride herd on a motley collection of other rightwing parties, led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi. She does not share Berlusconi’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin or the anti-statism of her other main ally, Matteo Salvini, many of whose voters she captured on September 25th. 

Still, with 44 percent of the vote and a putative majority in both houses of Parliament, Meloni’s coalition stands a good chance to put into operation her main policy plank – her opposition to immigration. She will no doubt also press ahead with her more controversial position – opposition to what she calls “the LGBTQ lobby.” 

To underscore the danger of a neo-fascist at the helm of Italy’s third largest economy, President Joe Biden intoned that she represents a danger to global democracy. Beginning with The Guardian, the liberal internationalist press warned that she represents a threat to the European Union.

But in this chorus of condemnation and concern, one voice has been missing: that of former President Donald J. Trump. Given Meloni’s closeness to Trump consigliere Steve Bannon and the fact that she has, in the past, fawned over the former President, his silence after her victory is a puzzle. What can be the reasons for Trump’s reticence

First, Trump may have been distracted from the triumph of Meloni by his domestic preoccupations.  His hand-picked candidates in Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are struggling against their Democratic opponents as Trump struggles to wriggle out of his many legal difficulties. 

Second, Trump has never been comfortable with successful women. Recall that when he hosted the former British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House he took her hand as if she was an intimate of his wife Melania. While Meloni looks nothing like Hungary’s Victor Orban or North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, her underlying toughness may challenge the maschilismo of the former President. 

But there may be a more strategic reason for Trump’s apparent indifference to Meloni’s victory. Trump may sense in Meloni’s charisma a challenge to his leadership. In the last two months, according to a ABC/Washington Post poll, Trump’s popularity in Republican public opinion has declined by 20 percent. Calling attention to the success of the petite blonde Meloni poses a challenge to Trump’s vision of himself as the tribune of the renaissance of the global Right.