MILAN -- Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi appealed Sunday to disillusioned members of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi's party to join forces — but received a quick rebuke.
Renzi made his appeal the day after Berlusconi and his much-weakened Forza Italia party appeared marginalized at a right-wing rally in Rome led by Matteo Salvini of the populist League.
While Berlusconi's party has slid significantly in popularity in recent years, a post-fascist party, the Brothers of Italy, is pulling the conservative movement toward a more extreme right.
Renzi said the right-wing rally in Rome on Saturday "ended the cultural model of the center-right. ... Yesterday Salvini took the reins and I understand the discomfort of the managers and rank-and-file of Forza Italia."
"To whomever believes that there is space for a liberal, democratic area, I say, come give us a hand," he said.
A Berlusconi loyalist, Mara Carfagna, quickly rejected the proposal saying, "we are not in search of new landing sites or new leaders."
"Renzi's clear hope is that Forza Italia implodes," Carfagna said, adding that she is working to maintain the movement's identity as "moderate, liberal and reformist, with its feet planted in the center-right, with no hints of sovereign-ism or extremism."
Renzi split from the Democratic Party that he formerly ran after supporting the formation of the new government with the 5-Star Movement to create his own "Italia Viva" party. Polls show its support hovering at around 5%, with three-quarters of Italians viewing it as a marginal party, and only 10% believe it will rise to significance.