It’s not unusual for Donald Trump to publicly endorse his political allies, but by any reasonable measure, the former president’s support for Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has gone far beyond routine backing.
The Republican published this endorsement, for example, late last week, by way of his Twitter-like social media platform.
“BRAZIL, VOTE FOR JAIR BOLSONARO: There is a VERY BIG Election taking place tomorrow, one of Worldwide importance. A great and highly respected man, Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, is up for re-election, and based on all that he has done, and all that he is doing for the wonderful people of his beloved country, everyone should enthusiastically go out and VOTE for him. Jair Bolsonaro has my Complete and Total Endorsement. He will never let you down!”
A day later, Trump released a video endorsement in support of Bolsonaro. The day after that, Trump issued another statement, congratulating the Brazilian for qualifying for a runoff, despite finishing second.
Yesterday, Trump extended additional support to Bolsonaro. A few hours later, he promoted the Brazilian president’s campaign message. Less than an hour later, the Republican again pushed his video endorsement of Bolsonaro. This morning, he touted the Brazilian once more.
There’s no reason to assume this will be the last such statement. Trump isn’t just casually offering half-hearted support for Bolsonaro, he’s invested.
Occasionally, the Republican will go through the motions, backing domestic allies while simultaneously trying to humiliate them as part of an awkward display of dominance. But that’s not the case here: Trump has nothing but gushing praise for his South American ally.
It’s part of an unsettling pattern. Circling back to our earlier coverage, he’s long had a knack for backing foreign leaders despite — or perhaps because of — their eagerness to lead their countries away from democracy. See, for example, Trump’s endorsement of Polish President Andrzej Duda and his enthusiastic support for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Bolsonaro, meanwhile, is also an autocratic leader who’s spent recent months questioning the legitimacy of his country’s electoral system, as part of a political strategy to dismiss his likely defeat as “rigged.” The country’s far-right president has already declared that he will not accept election results that he does not like.
Columbia University’s Miguel Lago explained in a New York Times opinion piece last month, “To some, this looks like the groundwork for a coup. In this view, Mr. Bolsonaro intends to refuse any election result that does not please him and, with the help of the military, install himself as president permanently. The reading is half right: Mr. Bolsonaro doesn’t intend to leave office, regardless of the election results. But it’s not a coup, with its need for elite consensus and eschewal of mass mobilization, he’s after. It’s a revolution.”
For some in the United States, this is cause for serious alarm. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, recently told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman about a draft proposal, focused specifically on Brazil, that would declare the United States’ intention to immediately recognize the election outcome that international monitors deem free and fair.
Just as important, the Vermonter's measure would warn that future U.S. aid would be in jeopardy for foreign governments that claim power through undemocratic means.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump, once again showing his disdain for his own country’s democratic principles, can hardly contain his overwhelming admiration for the autocratic leader known as the “Tropical Trump.”
When President Joe Biden delivered remarks last month on the domestic dangers our democracy is facing, he specifically called out the Republican Party’s radicalized wing that “promotes authoritarian leaders.”
His immediate predecessor seems eager to help prove the Democrat right.