Donald Trump’s fired chief strategist Steve Bannon has plenty of time on his hands these days – enough, apparently, to take a firsthand look at Italy’s surging populist movements ahead of Sunday’s national elections.Italian daily La Stampa broke the news that Bannon had traveled to Rome on Thursday to investigate the populist and far-right parties playing a defining role in the race. Bannon, the former head of right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, is fascinated by the tightly contested election and believes it holds major implications for populist movements in Europe, the newspaper reported.
Bannon had hinted that he supported the anti-migrant, anti-European Union Northern League, which is polling at about 13 percent on the back of a Trump-like “Italians First” campaign, La Stampa reported. He had hoped to arrange a meeting with Matteo Salvini, the Northern League’s leader, but Salvini had reportedly been too busy in the final days of the campaign.The Guardian also confirmed Bannon’s trip with a senior politician for the Northern League and a Rome-based friend of Bannon’s.Viewed as one of Trump’s most influential advisers until he was unceremoniously booted from the White House in August, Bannon should find plenty to get excited about ahead of the March 4 vote, where his brand of nationalist, anti-immigration politics is gaining traction.The Italian election is shaping up as a three-way race between a center-right coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party that includes the Northern League; the populist, Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, Italy’s most popular party; and the ruling center-left Democratic Party.Immigration, one of Bannon’s major political concerns, has been one of the defining issues of the election. More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy in the last four years, the majority of them coming on smugglers’ boats across the Mediterranean from Libya.Parties across the spectrum have sought to capitalize on public sentiment against migration. “We are packed with drug dealers, rapists, burglars — and the League is the solution,” Salvini said at a recent campaign rally. Berlusconi has described refugees as a “social time bomb” and pledged to deport them in the hundreds of thousands, while even the center-left Democratic Party has taken a tougher line.“We do not have the moral duty to welcome into Italy people who are worse off than ourselves," said party secretary and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in July, urging an end to a “do-gooder” mentality toward migrants.Bannon has always kept a close eye on European politics, even after being ousted as executive chairman at Breitbart News in January following the publication of journalist Michael Wolff’s explosive White House tell-all, in which he took shots at Trump and his family. He also has a strong relationship with Nigel Farage, seen as a chief architect of Brexit, who has in turn credited Breitbart News as an influential factor in the successful campaign to leave the European Union.Cover image: The former Trump chief strategist and Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon speaks during an interview conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun in Tokyo on Dec. 19, 2017. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)