Since leaving office, Donald Trump has been acquitted in a second impeachment trial, and has reportedly considered launching a new political party, investing in a social-media app, and, perhaps more predictably, making another run for the White House in 2024. In a statement following his acquittal, Trump declared the trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” adding, “Our historic, patriotic, and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.”
There are plenty of reasons to take Trump at his word. If populist movements have proved anything, it’s their remarkable staying power, even after their leaders have been removed from power, democratically or otherwise. From Berlusconism in Italy to Peronism in Argentina and Fujimorismo in Peru, personality-driven movements rarely fade once their leaders have left office. In the face of victimization, real or imagined, they often thrive.
What, then, of Trumpism? While these movements differ in ideology and context, they can be instructive in anticipating what happens next.
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 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.