ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump got his desired victory lap Tuesday with the Brazilian known as the “Trump of the Tropics” as they stood side by side in the White House Rose Garden in a full display of the nationalism that put both in office.
Hours earlier, in true Trump fashion, he had flashed his contrarian side as he and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, sat together in the Oval Office.
“The relationship we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” Trump said of the diplomatic bromance.
The two conservative leaders used the White House as a backdrop to denounce socialism and float new strict sanctions for Venezuela in another attempt to force its president, Nicolás Maduro, from office. Trump also announced that the two countries are nearing a deal to allow U.S. access to a rocket-launch facility in Brazil, and that he would support the South American powerhouse becoming a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — “in honor” of Bolsonaro.
Trump wasted little time referencing Bolsonaro’s recent election victory, which in many ways resembled the U.S. leader’s own populist “America First” 2016 campaign.
“President Bolsonaro, I want to congratulate you again on your tremendous election victory last October,” he said at the start of his prepared remarks. “It was an incredible feat, and really and truly incredible challenge, and the end result was something the whole world was talking about.
“We have many views that are similar, and we certainly feel very, very true to each other on trade. I think Brazil’s relationship with the United States, because of our friendship, is probably better than it’s ever been by far,” Trump said.
But that’s similar to what the former reality television star and New York real estate mogul has said when meeting with other world leaders — and often when he is merely discussing them in interviews or public remarks. Trump has yet to describe the criteria he uses to determine whether he, after just over two years in office, has bested his 44 predecessors in establishing the best relationship with every U.S. ally or near-allies like Brazil.
Bolsonaro got in on the mutual affection, saying at one point that “Brazil and the United States stand side by side … against fake news.” Trump said he felt “very proud” that the “Tropical Trump” also uses one of his signature derisive monikers.
The Brazilian leader followed Trump in addressing a question from an American reporter about some Democratic 2020 candidates calling for the Electoral College to be scrapped and replaced with a popular vote-based presidential election system. Bolsonaro called that an “internal” matter for Americans to sort out. He said he would respect the 2020 race’s outcome but predicted a second Trump win.
“Thank you, I agree,” Trump chimed in.
Trump and White House officials wanted the Brazilian president’s visit to be a bigger deal than other recent appearances by foreign leaders at the executive mansion. For instance, Bolsonaro was the first leader with whom Trump has conducted a joint press conference at the White House since Sept. 18, when Polish President Andrzej Duda said he would “very much like for us to set up permanent American bases in Poland, which we would call ‘Fort Trump.’”
One reason was both leaders are staunch opponents of socialism, with the American president already saying that stopping it from taking root in the United States will be a top theme of his re-election campaign.
“The United States and Brazil are also united in support of the long-suffering people of Cuba and Nicaragua. The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” Trump said. “And hopefully, by the way, it’s also arrived, that twilight hour, in our great country, which is doing better than it’s ever done economically — the last thing we want in the United States is socialism.”
Appearing eager to please a man who is essentially his political mentor, Bolsonaro said, “More and more, people are opening their eyes to the reality of socialism.”
Perhaps at no point was the budding bromance more evident than when Trump announced he would support OECD membership for Brazil. And, in a move even his top aides did not expect, he said he would discuss full NATO membership for the South American nation with other alliance members.
Bolsonaro beamed as Trump announced “we will be supporting” OECD membership. “Thank you,” he said with a wide smile.
But as the Brazilian leader made the rounds in Washington, some lawmakers saw risks.
California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna tweeted that “we must speak out against his human rights abuses and attacks on marginalized Brazilians. Our democratic principles cannot be sidelined.”
As Bolsonaro tours the CIA and meets Trump at the White House, we must speak out against his human rights abuses and attacks on marginalized Brazilians. Our democratic principles cannot be sidelined.https://t.co/ws75nunNrc— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) March 19, 2019