‘Reason to worry’: Italy’s Meloni holds mirror to Trump’s GOP
As Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy opens up divisions among American conservatives over continued aid to Ukraine, with the former president signaling his desire to stop funding Kyiv, the boost from the GOP for Meloni risks emboldening the MAGA wing of the party against more establishment voices who want to continue helping Ukraine. Some of Meloni’s coalition partners have allied with Vladimir Putin in the past and more recently have refused to condemn his brutal invasion.
But if GOP lawmakers are wary of allying with a future prime minister who has said immigration “robs nations and peoples of their identity” — while opposing new mosques in Italy — they won’t show it. not.
« Global elites are crying into their granola because another conservative populist has been elected, » said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who hailed Meloni’s « spectacular » victory speech. “And across the world we see battles between the socialist left – the arrogant elites who want to control people’s lives – and the populist uprising that opposes it.”
Cruz went on to illustrate the delicate line that pro-Meloni conservatives must toe in emphasizing the importance of Western unity in cutting off Russian energy sources. With winter fast approaching and fuel prices soaring across Europe, keeping Italy and other countries on board with it may not be easy.
Meloni, 45, has sought to moderate her views recently, and this week she tweeted his support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Yet, with Europe on the brink of a recession resulting at least in part from energy sanctions imposed on Russia, the Biden administration and elsewhere fear that Meloni will cut what has been a significant Italian contribution to the defense of Ukraine.
Such a move could have a domino effect and cause key Western allies to push for a negotiated end to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Trump backed that position on Wednesday, which Ukraine’s leaders vehemently oppose because it would likely require ceding large swaths of their territory to Putin.
“Like everything with a new administration, you have to see how they act, not what they say,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.), who recently visited Italy for an economic conference. “You can be conservative in your country but not necessarily have a conservative foreign policy. If she were to conduct the foreign policy equivalent of Trump, that would be cause for concern.
The pandemic briefly halted the rise of far-right parties across Europe, including Italy, making Meloni’s victory the strongest proof in years that populist movements across the continent – including many are allied with Trump – are alive and well. These same populist parties are strengthening their ties with like-minded politicians across the Atlantic.
That at least partly explains Meloni’s celebrity status for some Republicans who have seen his adherence to traditional values and family-oriented social conservatism propel his past campaign messaging. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who favors what he calls the « nationalist » approach of Trump and other conservative foreign leaders, said in a brief interview that he had read his recent speeches and l found it « very intriguing ».
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who often aligns himself with the Trump wing of the GOP on foreign policy, said Meloni’s victory speech over the weekend « gave me applause. »
« For me, that was encouraging, » added Paul. « I think people probably reacted unfairly towards her. For God’s sake, calling the woman Mussolini is a bit of a stretch.
Some of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, like Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), also cheered Meloni’s victory. Others, like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, simply offered congratulations.
Establishment Republicans aren’t saying much — yet — but some fear Meloni’s victory will encourage more pro-Trump colleagues to push to cut funding to Ukraine.
Democrats, meanwhile, got mixed reviews. They were reassured when Meloni tweeted his wish to continue Italy’s « loyal support for the cause of the freedom of the Ukrainian people ». But they vowed to remain lucid about the new prime minister’s reaction to the economic headwinds looming on the horizon this winter as efforts to isolate Putin economically and diplomatically continue.
Financial pressures on European governments have given oxygen to populist politicians more likely to redirect Ukrainian funds to domestic causes – an acute concern for the Biden administration as it strives to keep the Western coalition intact.
Some Democrats are more optimistic about Meloni than others.
« Until recently, the idea that a party with its roots in post-World War II neo-fascism would lead the government in Italy was unthinkable, » said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) . « But I don’t think that’s the disaster for EU or NATO coalitions that has been predicted in some contexts. »
While Meloni has sought to reassure nervous allies, his record — and his pro-Trump alignment in the United States — affirms his potential willingness to reconsider Italy’s strong support for Ukraine. Some in Washington also fear she will follow the more authoritarian path of other far-right leaders in Europe, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Biden administration should have « reason to be concerned about the Italian government’s seriousness in advancing Russian policy, » especially given Meloni’s alignment with Trump’s allies.
Again, Murphy was equally skeptical that the United States would maintain its level of support for Ukraine if the Republicans took control of one or both houses of Congress in November, given the influence and of Trump’s efforts to defeat previous aid programs to Ukraine.