Can anyone stop Matteo Salvini?

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Matteo Salvini becomes prime minister, gets a pro-Putin president elected, governs with a party even further to the right than his own and clashes with Brussels to the point of taking Italy out of the euro.

That’s the nightmare scenario for Europe’s political mainstream, following Salvini’s decision to trigger the downfall of the current Italian government. And it certainly can’t be excluded. Salvini’s League party is riding high in the opinion polls and his opponents are in disarray. After an election, he may be able to form a government with the far-right Brothers of Italy, a party that doesn’t hide its admiration for the country’s fascist past.

But sometimes things don’t turn out as envisioned. Not so long ago, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, proclaimed the current government of populists from the right (the League) and left (the 5Star Movement) represented the future of European politics. Now it looks like it will soon be a thing of the past.

So who could stop Salvini? Here are five possible names (all men — welcome to Italian politics).

Italian President Sergio Mattarella | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

1. Sergio Mattarella. The president of the republic holds the key to events in the coming days. He’s the one who has to decide whether to call a parliamentary election or conclude there is another viable majority in parliament. Officials say that he is well aware that any attempt to postpone an election and install a technocratic government could spark a popular backlash, making Salvini even stronger. Some analysts say the strategy of the taciturn Sicilian jurist is to move quickly to an election, as Salvini wants — but find a way to make sure the League leader can’t avoid responsibility for the next budget, due to be approved in early October. With the economy slowing and public debt rising, painful decisions are looming. Whether Salvini ends up in charge before or after that deadline, his opponents are keen to ensure he can’t shirk those decisions.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

2. Giuseppe Conte. The law professor who became prime minister without any previous political experience now enjoys the second-highest approval rating in the country, behind only Mattarella. A survey published Friday shows the president at 60 percent, followed by Conte on 50 percent. Salvini’s rating stands at 44 percent. Conte has formed a strong alliance with Mattarella and in recent months he has been sharpening his profile as a kind of anti-Salvini moderate. Officially, Conte is politically independent. Now he will likely have to decide whether to lead a list in the next election — a list that could damage Salvini’s electoral fortunes. It’s probably not by chance that there are rumors in Rome that Conte wants to be appointed a European commissioner. One Italian official suggested Salvini may be behind such talk, in an effort to get rid of his dangerous rival.

Italian politician, founding member of the Democratic Party (PD) Nicola Zingaretti | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

3. Nicola Zingaretti. On the face of things, the man elected leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) earlier this year is not in a strong position. Former leader Matteo Renzi still wields strong influence over the party’s members of parliament and he has his own agenda. Renzi, for example, doesn’t want any alliance with the 5Stars, whereas Zingaretti and other prominent party figures are more inclined to consider one. The PD has also recovered only a little from a disastrous general election last year that saw it ejected from power. But Zingaretti, the president of the Lazio region, has reasons to favor an early election. It would let him purge the parliamentary groups of Renzi loyalists and form alliances with other parties — possibly the 5Stars or other groups that may emerge in the coming months.

Center-left PD politician and former economic development minister, Carlo Calenda | Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

4. Carlo Calenda. The former economic development minister was elected in May to the European Parliament on the list of the center-left PD. But he told POLITICO on Friday that he hopes to form an alliance that would also include progressive, liberal and other pro-EU forces. He said he believes even Silvio Berlusconi’s struggling Forza Italia “could be a part of this project,” which he described as “a wide-reaching container.” The MEP will head to Rome next week to meet with the PD’s leadership and pitch his proposal. “A single list of liberal pro-EU political forces is the way forward … the priority is to fight Salvini, who poses a serious risk to our democracy and will likely lead us out of the EU,” Calenda declared. To achieve his goal, Calenda is even willing to work alongside former PM and ex-PD leader Renzi, even though he said the two are “not talking” at the moment. Calenda’s bet is very ambitious as Italy’s electoral system tends to favor established parties.

5star Movement (M5S) member Alessandro Di Battista | Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

5. Alessandro Di Battista. The 41-year-old Roman is the only person in Italian politics who wears hoodies as much as Salvini and uses similar, down-to-earth language. It’s not for nothing that he’s considered the 5Star Movement’s version of the interior minister. According to Italian media reports, Di Battista is likely to be one of Salvini’s main rivals in the election campaign, as the frontman for the beleaguered 5Stars. The former NGO worker-turned-politician then journalist is nothing if not controversial. His main targets recently have been … NGOs, journalists and politicians. Di Battista didn’t run in last year’s general election and spent the first six months of a yearlong sabbatical traveling with his young family through South America. Upon his return, he caused multiple diplomatic incidents between Rome and Paris, one of them triggered by a visit to leaders of the Yellow Jacket protest movement in Paris. His antagonism toward France is not the only trait he shares with Salvini. He also has a certain fascination for Russia. Di Battista was one of the 5Star lawmakers who managed the party’s relations with Vladimir Putin’s party in the last legislature. But he seems to deeply dislike his alter ego: Before Salvini triggered the government crisis on Thursday night, Di Battista wrote on his Facebook page that the interior minister “is ruthless and in love with power and privilege, pressured by a group of crooks that have always infested Italian politics.”

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