WASHINGTON — President Biden used the results of last week’s prime ministerial election in Italy, which saw hard-right candidate Giorgia Meloni prevail, as a warning of what could befall the United States if the nation’s politics succumbed to surging authoritarian impulses.
“You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election,” Biden said at a Wednesday evening fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association at a private residence in Washington, D.C. “You’re seeing what’s happening around the world. The reason I bother to say that is you can’t be sanguine about what’s happening here, either.”
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which has neo-fascist roots, will be the first far-right party to lead Italy since World War II. The party, which received about 26% of the vote and whose center-right coalition garnered roughly a 44% share, will be tasked to form a coalition government next month. Meloni will also be her country’s first woman premier.
Meloni is an ally of Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, who in recent years has emerged as the leader of European revanchism. His agenda has been embraced by American conservatives, many of whom also see Meloni as a natural ally. “America is stronger when Italy is strong, sovereign, prosperous, and free,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote in a Twitter message celebrating her victory.
Her victory was similarly celebrated by Europe’s far-right. Marine Le Pen, who in April made it to the French presidential runoff election, hailed Meloni for opposing “the threats of an antidemocratic and arrogant European Union.” In Spain, Santiago Abascal, the leader of the country’s hard-right Vox opposition party, said on Twitter that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”
Praise for Meloni on both sides of the continent could be seen to confirm Biden’s argument that authoritarianism is becoming increasingly attractive as many democracies embrace rancor and nationalism. “It’s awful hard to reach a consensus in [a] short amount of time,” he said on Wednesday evening in acknowledging the challenges of democratic rule.
Both in his remarks then, and in other venues earlier in the day, the president lamented the disappearance of Republicans like Bob Dole and John McCain, who he said could maintain conservative principles without seeking to destroy the institutions that sustain American democracy.
For several months, Biden has been determinedly casting today’s Republican Party as having been captured by “MAGA Republicans” whose adherence to former President Donald Trump imperils, in his view, American democracy. Biden has also compared the ideology powering Trump's movement to “semi-fascism,” describing its refusal to accept the results of the last presidential election as a deep aversion to democracy.
He warned that Republican governors and state legislators could, if they gain more power, erode the integrity of elections to come.
Today's GOP is “a different breed of cat,” Biden said, defending his earlier remarks about the Republican Party’s supposedly fascistic impulses and describing the economic proposals of Sens. Rick Scott and Ron Johnson as radical measures meant to shred social safety net programs like Social Security.
Criticizing the “incompetence” of the preceding administration — that is, Trump’s — he seemed to suggest that returning either or both chambers of Congress to Republican control would lead to the kind of antidemocratic backslide he and other liberals believe awaits Italy under Meloni.
“We have got to win,” Biden said. “We need to keep control of the Congress, to state the obvious.” At one point during his remarks, he was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He joked that Trump was calling, to laughter from the audience.