How Trump’s Tactics Helped Put Brazil’s Far-Right Candidate Jair Bolsonaro Ahead Of Presidential Election

A collage of Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Antonio Scorza/Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Long before the dictatorship-admiring former paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro nearly won the Brazilian presidential election in the first round on Sunday, with nearly 47 percent of the votes, he had been deemed a “tropical” Donald Trump. In fact, Bolsonaro himself made the comparison, the Associated Press reports.

Praised by his admirers as a candidate who “tells like it is,” Bolsonaro will decide the election on Oct. 28 against the leftist Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), the same party of the divisive former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is currently in jail.

Bolsonaro, who comes from a small party that previously had barely any influence, rose to prominence by promising to dismantle a dysfunctional political system and using charged language to capture the imagination of citizens who are afraid of losing their place in an increasingly diverse and inclusive society amid growing demands for social rights among minorities.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Associated Press has compiled a few of the tactics used by Bolsonaro that will sound strikingly familiar to Americans and others who followed the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro takes pride in talking straight and being anti “political correctness.” He’s said he rather his son die in an accident than be gay and has told a congresswoman that he wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it. He has also made belittling comments about blacks and native people.

Bolsonaro also partakes in the tactic that involves bashing the media relentlessly. The candidate has accused them of telling outright lies about him and ignoring his rise in the polls and endorsements from other politicians, following in the footsteps of Trump, who has labeled the press the “enemy of the people.”

Because Bolnaro distrusts the media, he often takes to social media to spread his message. The tactic became ever more important for the candidate after he suffered an assassination attempt on Sept. 6 and was at the hospital for more than three weeks. Associated professor of Latin American politics at American University Matthew Taylor told the AP that both Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s reliance on social media helped them overcome initial resistance to their candidacies.

Bolsonaro said he wouldn’t accept the result of the elections if he didn’t win, declaring that a loss would signal election fraud. In 2016, Trump also made similar claims, contending that the election process was rigged in a series of tweets, as the BBC reported at the time.

Finally, the AP points out how both Trump and Bolsonaro have counted on the use of proxies, particularly their children, to spread their message. Bolsonaro has often depended on his three eldest sons to speak on his behalf in a similar way Trump can count on Donald Trump Jr.