American intervention in the 1948 Italian national election campaign has long been a source of contention. Most scholarship has assessed the Truman administration's activities in binary terms that revolve on simplistic notions of ‘success’; the idea that American efforts did or did not affect the outcome. The subsequent tendency has been to celebrate or critique US intervention. This article traces the difficulties experienced by the American government in post-war Italy, which laid the platform for an improvised effort in support of non-communist forces. The mobilisation was neither unified nor coherent and, moreover, was influenced by Italians. The final result nevertheless masked problems with the campaign. Rather than a normative critique of American efforts, this article argues that the outcome fostered a ‘perception of success’ that reframed US conceptualisation of the post-war Italian case and considers the wider ramifications of this mind-frame for future US–Italian relations and broader American approaches in the Cold War.