Billionaires with bad hair and cringe-worthy gaffes who want to run their country, how similar are former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Republican front-runner for President Donald Trump?
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNITED STATES (REUTERS) – Republican front-runner for the American presidential race, Donald Trump arrives at a rally and greets his wildly cheering fans. The success of the billionaire businessman, known for his bad hair, his out-of-place comments and his love of attractive women, is beginning to draw parallels with a rather familiar figure on the other side of the Atlantic.
Silvio Berlusconi, the teflon-coated, media mogul who dominated Italian politics for two decades, becoming the country’s prime minister three times. The flamboyant 79-year-old billionaire media mogul is Italy’s most colourful and scandal-prone figure.
One of Italy’s richest men, his self-made image is a big part of his appeal. Berlusconi has a business empire including construction, media and the AC Milan soccer club. He has made a career of confounding pundits who repeatedly counted him out. He, like Trump, is more loved inside his own country than out. But why have these two quite similar figures gained success on the political scene in two very different countries?
“They are bringing into politics the idea that entrepreneurs can do it better, that politicians, traditional politicians and professional politicians have failed and that people coming from outside with a fresh look and with the business-like abilities can solve the problems of ordinary people way better than politicians” said Professor of Contemporary History at Rome’s Luiss University, Giovanni Orsina.
Doing the unexpected is a trait both Trump and Berlusconi seem to delight in.
From almost the moment Trump announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president, he has engendered criticism, outrage and support for his colorful speeches, dramatic policy statements, and insults of fellow candidates, reporters, and sometimes entire ethnic groups. His idea to pose with an eagle to show his strength and courage may not have gone strictly to plan but the public loved it.
The public also loved the way Berlusconi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel to wait a moment as he finished a call on his mobile phone when he arrived for a NATO summit in Germany in 2009.
And, Berlusconi had a song of his very own, entitled, “Thank Goodness for Silvio!” which was blasted out at every rally and may be something Trump will need to consider for the future.
The Italian leader loved using his quips which constantly caused a stir, telling a rally in 2010.
“…they keep saying, ‘Berlusconi go home’, which puts me in some embarrassment because I wouldn’t know which one I should go to, since I own 20.”
Political analyst for Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Massimo Franco explains the Trump/Berlusconi phenomenon is a comment on how established intstitutions appear outdated to many voters.
“It’s a problem of culture” Franco said.
“I think that the culture of the establishment today is considered outdated, false. So, when there is somebody telling the truth, telling what people think, that is more important than the gaffe they can do,” he said.
“So this is the big difference. We had the same phenomenon with Berlusconi in 1994. Berlusconi said many grotesque things but they were not perceived as such. That means that the problem is not Berlusconi’s gaffes but the narrative of the establishment” he said.
Both Trump and Berlusconi have had a colourful love life.
Married three-times, Trump is often seen with his latest wife Slovenian-born former model Melania cutting an impressive figure by his side.
Berlusconi, of course, had “Bunga Bunga.”
In April 2011, Berlusconi went on trial accused of paying for sex with an underage teenager and abuse of office in trying to cover up the affair. Berlusconi denied all charges. The so-called “Bunga Bunga” scandal, was among factors that accelerated his demise as prime minister in late 2011, at the peak of the euro zone debt crisis, and he resigned from office.
His most recent romance with 28-year-old girlfriend Francesca Pascale now seems to have run into problems.
Maybe Trump might also think about getting a white fluffy dog as a pet. Berlusconi is often seen carrying, Dudu, his pet poodle around with him – a look that may work for the American presidential hopeful.
Whatever the outcome in the American elections Trump and Berlusconi certainly have their similarities. Both are skillful practitioners of political expediency and unrelenting peddlers of their own cause.
But maybe Trump should steer clear of ending up with a legacy similar to that of Berlusconi, who is blamed for much of Italy’s economic woes and largely ridiculed outside the country.