What's the Italian word for 'hubris'? Somebody should ask League leader Matteo Salvini.
In a report published Friday, Bloomberg examines the circumstances surrounding Salvini's failed political gambit, which the Interior Minister and Deputy PM had hoped would install him as prime minister of Italy, but instead resulted in his political rivals joining forces to outmaneuver him.
Less than a month ago, Salvini was out partying at Papeete Beach. At one point, he stepped up to the decks during a music festival, where the man who was until very recently the most powerful politician in Italy was surrounded by dancing bikini-clad women.
El viceprimer de Italia, Matteo Salvini, fue invitado a la cabina de DJ en un festival celebrado en la playa de Papeete en la ciudad turística italiana de Milano Marittima, cerca de Rávena. pic.twitter.com/6f90XLSnYW— RT en Español (@ActualidadRT) August 7, 2019
This was Salvini at the height of his power. But little did he realize that, while he was partying, his rivals were busy plotting his downfall, and within weeks, his hopes of taking over as prime minister would be crushed.
At the time, Salvini had reason to celebrate.
The public didn't know yet, but he had finally acquiesced to his party's demands to withdraw his support for the coalition government that had seen his League govern with the Five Star Movement (M5S) for more than a year. Salvini believed that by forcing an election, he could capitalize on his popularity and return with a new conservative coalition that would more readily support his party's platform of anti-immigrant measures combined with tax cuts that antagonized Brussels. And instead of serving as co-deputy PM, he would be prime minister.
Per BBG, Salvini was keeping his fellow Deputy PM, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio, in the dark about his plans, repeatedly swearing in public that he had no intentions of abandoning the coalition.
Days later, on Aug. 7, Salvini informed Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who had been brought on in a compromise between the two parties to rule as a neutral technocrat, that he planned to walk away from the government. Next, he informed Di Maio, who accused him of treachery.
The next day, Salvini told the public. In comments to the press, Salvini asked whether the public would trust him with the "full powers" of the premiership.
But he badly miscalculated. Soon, former PM Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party exhorted his party to seek a coalition with M5S, despite their well-documented history of antagonism. Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti, who had been against an alliance with Five Star, was soon facing pressure to put his misgivings aside.
Soon, the two parties approached Conte, who had resigned as PM roughly two weeks ago, about potentially returning to his post. He readily agreed. This past week, Italian President Sergio Mattarella gave Conte his blessing to form a new government. Now, all Conte needs is to fill out his cabinet and create a platform (one that's likely to be centrist and technocratic) and he's likely to take power officially next week.
But Salvini wasn't ready to simply walk away. According to BBG, behind closed doors, Salvini made a last-minute offer to Di Maio in an attempt to salvage their alliance. If Di Maio would be willing to return as his coalition partner, Di Maio could have the premiership. But Di Maio turned him down.
Financial markets also gave the new government their blessing, as Italian stocks and bonds rallied on the belief that Conte would be more likely to play nice with Brussels.
To be sure, this isn't the end of Salvini. He's still the leader of his party, and senior officials told BBG that they expect him to make a political comeback.
In comments shortly after the formation of the new coalition, Salvini insisted that plotting at the G-7 summit earlier this month had helped cement his overthrow.
The marriage between M5S and the Democrats hasn't even officially begun, and there are already reports of infighting within the coalition. And Salvini - or "the Captain", as his admirers have labeled him - has untrammeled power over the League, a formerly regional party that Salvini built into a national powerhouse with approval ratings around 40% (up from 4% when he took over in 2013).