He will be missed, above all, for his carefully composed speeches, the showdowns on live TV, the spectacle of him speaking and Renzi forced to listen in his Senate bench; for him listing everything that bothered him methodically, one by one. He will be missed for his rhetoric—“concerning” this, “with particular regard” to that. He will be missed for the encore from August 20, 2019, the day when the mysterious political entity Giuseppe Conte, the Prime Minister by chance who had stayed for the whole 445 days of his first government in the shadow of two vice-premiers, the one forced to be photographed with the printed-out Salvini decree, the one who was pulled away by Casalino while trying to talk to journalists at his first G7 summit—and who, on that day in August, suddenly blossomed into maturity in the Senate chamber, slowly and methodically taking Salvini to pieces.
Paradoxically, it was as if his political history had begun right then, on the same day he first resigned. But that time it was after bringing the crisis to Parliament, as he always said he wanted to do. He chose “parliamentarization,” even if, to be honest, not even that time did he feel like doing it all the way, by facing a full vote of confidence. Because, on the one hand, there is the theory—“I have always said and reiterated that Parliament gives confidence and takes it away”—but then there is the practical attempt to stay in the saddle for yet another term as Prime Minister. And for this reason, it was better for him not to face the loss of a vote of confidence (and not to have Bonafede rejected, which is the same thing).
Accordingly, this time Conte resigned without going through Parliament, just a few days after—in spite of everything—both the House and the Senate confirmed their confidence in him. This was what he himself had explained a thousand times to those who kept telling him these days that the Conte 2 government had reached the end of the road. His “surrender,” above all, is choosing not to go through the Senate, not to challenge those who have set a trap for him, not to try to win the hand openly once again. It also came because last week, Conte had to hold back in the Senate. He was at the edge with the numbers, and he certainly couldn’t attack Renzi head-on in the chamber while his team at the Palazzo Chigi sounded out potential defectors from Renzi’s camp under the radar.
And then, it ended with a walk into the wilderness. There was the announcement on Monday morning in the Council of Ministers, the resignation delivered to the President, the reckless and absurd fantasy of him immediately getting the mandate to form a new government without holding any consultations at all. But, above all, there was the fear, at this point, that everything might end without a public reckoning of responsibilities—in short, him leaving with a splash and without a bang. Even if his objective is not to leave at all, but rather to receive a new mandate to form a semi-new government immediately. It would be his fourth.
His fourth, and not his third, because in the history of this stranger to politics—who is rumored to be slowly building a new cabinet—there was also a first mandate, which ended unsuccessfully. It was the one that lasted just four days and failed because of the obstinacy of nominating Savona for the Economy Ministry (let’s be clear, it was certainly not him, but rather Di Maio and Salvini who were obstinate). A false start which was useful to
Conte and his first allies to sound out the President of the Republic and bounce back successfully as a result. Conte’s most famous quip describing himself dates back to that failed attempt, something he still boasts of at times: “I will be the people’s lawyer.” Starting on Monday, that lawyer is challenging history: in the seventy years of the Republic, his third mandate marks the boundary between the twenty-two Prime Ministers who have governed for one or two terms and the six who have done so a minimum of four times. Three terms is a place from which one can only try again, it seems.
But no one has ever accomplished this as a leader of three different coalitions. Perhaps because Conte is not really a leader, but he has been successively the embodied synthesis of a proto-sovereignist alliance, then of a newly minted center-left one, and now he is trying to be the unifying face for a national responsible majority.
Indeed, his governments implemented the racist line of anti-migrant decrees and then began to dismantle it. His majorities have announced the constitutional reform that defanged the Parliament, then brought it to fruition when the left replaced the sovereignists, and now they are trying hard to avoid its results—because voting for fewer deputies and senators without having changed the lectoral law and parliamentary regulations is madness. When Conte tore Salvini apart on the Senate floor, he did so by accusing him of not letting him complete justice reform. Seventeen months later, that reform, which got stuck on the starting line, is one of the first causes of the crisis. Yet, he is still ready to promise that the next one will surely be the good one. If there will be a next one. If he will be able to make his fourth chance count.