Inside the Bromance Between the ‘Trump of the Tropics’ and the Original
Brazil’s embattled President Jair Bolsonaro stood by Trump’s lies when no foreign leader would. Now, ahead of his own doomed re-election bid, he’s hoping Trump returns the favor.
Following Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, and after the bloody Jan. 6 riot that Trump instigated, the 45th U.S. president immediately lost many of his ties to world leaders he once called “friends.” However, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who has modeled himself in Trump’s image, sought to keep the bromance alive.
That’s something former President Trump, months after officially departing the White House, hasn’t forgotten, and has expressed some interest in returning the favor.
This summer, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, Trump told confidants that he’s open to publicly endorsing Bolsonaro’s reelection, potentially at a mega-rally in Brazil where he and Bolsonaro could appear together side-by-side, to rail against what they each deem undesired election outcomes. Bolsonaro, who is widely expected to decisively fail in his reelection bid next year, has been preemptively spreading groundless claims of election “fraud,” a strategy jarringly reminiscent of Trump’s failed coup in the United States.
Whether Trump ends up visiting his Brazilian peer soon or not (the U.S. government issued a “level four” advisory for those interested in visiting Brazil), the links between Bolsonaro-world and Trumpland remain firmly intact.
President Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, who serves as a member of the Brazilian parliament and has been described in the U.S. press as the Donald Trump Jr. of Brazil, recently met with Trump, according to a post on the Brazilian lawmaker’s Instagram account. Last month, the younger Bolsonaro posted pictures of himself at Trump Tower standing next to the former president. Bolsonaro, whose infant daughter posed alongside the ex-president in an autographed MAGA ball cap, said he “took the opportunity to invite [Trump] to come to our country when he sees fit, maybe in a CPAC-Brazil.”
Trump apparently did not make it to Brazil’s version of the annual U.S. conservative summit, although Donald Trump Jr. spoke to the conference via video. CPAC Brasil 2021, which was hosted in Brazil’s capital city of Brasília early this month, is one of several foreign spin-offs of the stateside conference, which is put on by the American Conservative Union. The ACU is fronted by Trump-aligned lobbyist Matt Schlapp, who is also a friend to the Bolsonaro political dynasty.
It was on the way back from that trip that a delegation of American conservatives, including Trump’s former senior adviser and spokesman Jason Miller, was briefly detained by Brazilian law enforcement as they attempted to fly out of the country on Tuesday. The incident came on Brazil’s independence day, as Bolsonaro urged his supporters to defend his administration by flooding into the streets of Brasília, as well as other major cities
A day before he was detained, Miller appeared on former top Trump aide Steve Bannon’s podcast to praise Bolsonaro, whom he described as a “very impressive man.”
“In a lot of ways, President Bolsonaro has the same superpowers that President Trump does,” Miller said.
Gettr, Miller’s attempt at a pro-Trump social media platform, has proven especially popular with conservative Brazilian supporters of President Bolsonaro, according to a recent report by Stanford University’s Internet Observatory. As a part of that study, researchers looked at the frequency of flag emojis in Gettr users’ profiles: Brazilian flags, affixed to 11,350 profiles, were second only to American flags, found on 20,650 accounts. The flag metric is an imprecise measurement of the national demographics of Gettr’s roughly 1.5 million followers but nonetheless points to a notably large and vocal community of pro-Bolsonaro users on the social media app. Their presence in such numbers, Stanford researchers wrote, is likely due at least in part to the support of Bolsonaro’s son Flavio, who announced he was joining the platform back in July.
The pugnacious Brazilian president has returned the favor, courting Miller with a high-level meeting during the Brazil trip. Miller met with a barefoot Bolsonaro and his son Eduardo, according to pictures posted on Twitter by fellow attendee Matthew Tyrmand, a board member of pro-Trump conservative activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group. During the meeting, Bolsonaro and his son held up a Project Veritas shirt.
“He wants to be sort of the South American branch of Trumpism, if you will,” said Gustavo Ribeiro, the founder of Brazilian news website The Brazilian Report.
Bolsonaro’s critics had accused him of using the protests to stage a coup or his own version of a Jan. 6-style attack on government institutions. While protesters broke through some police barricades the night before, the pro-Bolsonaro rallies were stymied by low attendance and a heightened law enforcement presence.
Eduardo Bolsonaro has become an emissary between his father and the American far-right. In 2019, the younger Bolsonaro joined a sort of international populist movement founded by Bannon, as the representative for South America.
Andre Pagliarini, an associate professor at Hampden-Sydney College who studies modern Brazilian political history, said the Bolsonaros affiliate themselves with Trump associates like Bannon in an attempt to get closer to Trump.
“It’s that lingering Trump dust that is still on Bannon that appeals to them,” Pagliarini said.
Eduardo Bolsonaro has even courted less internationally known Trump allies in the United States like MyPillow CEO and staunch Trump ally Mike Lindell. In August, Bolsonaro spoke at Lindell’s ill-fated “cyber-symposium” event, a bumbling attempt to prove the false conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Before his speech, Bolsonaro handed Lindell a red “MAGA” hat he claimed came from the twice-impeached former U.S. president.
“Bolsonaro will win unless it’s stolen by—guess what?—the machines,” Bannon said while the younger Bolsonaro was on-stage.
“The machines!” Lindell agreed.
For his part, the Trumpist pillow magnate hasn’t gone all in on Bolsonaro just yet. Lindell told The Daily Beast on Thursday night that he is currently not planning on sinking any money or resources into anything Brazil-related—because he is working to launch new fronts in his audit crusade in “Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Alabama, Colorado.”
Bolsonaro is expected to lose his 2022 reelection campaign to left-wing former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Ahead of that projected defeat, Bolsonaro is bringing Trump and the GOP’s baseless allegations of massive voter fraud to Brazil, part of an effort to claim victory even if he loses.
“Here is a network of denialism in the United States that’s established after Trump loses that they can kind of plug themselves into,” Pagliarini said.
Bolsonaro has already adapted American culture-war fights for Brazil, according to Ribeiro, embracing fights over gun control and supposed COVID-19 cure hydroxychloroquine.
Bolsonaro was also an early promoter of ivermectin, the anti-parasitic drug that’s been embraced as an unproven COVID-19 treatment by anti-vaccine groups in the United States.
“We don’t have a Second Amendment here, but still they use arguments very similar to what Republicans would use in the United States about the freedom to bear weapons,” Ribeiro said.
Some pro-Trump media outlets have embraced Bolsonaro as a figure Bannon has called the “Trump of the tropics.” QAnon social media channels eagerly followed the Brazilian protests, casting them as ordinary Brazilians reclaiming their freedom from liberal elites. Right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit argued that pro-Bolsonaro protesters and Trump supporters were all part of a single global battle against so-called “corruption.”
This isn’t the first time meetings between Bolsonaro and Trumpworld have made headlines. In March 2020, a meeting between Trump and Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago became a prominent coronavirus hotspot in the United States after several Bolsonaro aides tested positive for the virus.
“Trump has praised Bolsonaro’s style many times when he was in office, and loves how Bolsonaro goes after the media in his country and ‘political correctness,’” said a source close to Trump who’s spoken to him about Bolsonaro several times. “But the [former] president has been sure to point out that he is ‘better looking’ than Bolsonaro… at least twice when I’ve spoken to him.”