Of the world’s most notable populist leaders, perhaps none has garnered more comparisons to Trump than the former Italian prime minister. Berlusconi was Trump before Trump: a billionaire businessman and television personality who rose to power by railing against the political establishment and pledging to represent the interests of ordinary people. Though his career of more than two decades has been dogged by scandals, investigations, and trials—evidence, Berlusconi claimed in 2009, that he is “the most persecuted” person in history—he has nonetheless remained a political tour de force since his (most recent) resignation from the premiership in 2011, both within his center-right Forza Italia party, of which he remains leader, as well as in national politics more broadly.
A notable difference between Trump and Berlusconi is that the latter has lost elections without incident. Still, there are elements of Berlusconi’s long tenure that Trump could seek to emulate, not least his ability to stage multiple political comebacks (his latest, as a lawmaker in the European Parliament).
But perhaps Berlusconi’s greatest success has been in his ability to retain his base of loyal supporters—a personality cult that continues to see him as akin to a god. This is one outcome Trump can likely rely on: Even in the aftermath of last month’s deadly insurrection on Capitol Hill, Republican voters still approve of the former president in overwhelming numbers, as do many of the Republican state parties across the country.