MAGA, meet MBGA.
The official agenda for Tuesday’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro revolves around economic cooperation and the toppling of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.
Unofficially, the visit marks a milestone for what some see as an emerging new world order of strongmen backed by right-wing insurgencies. Supporters of both presidents are using the occasion to stitch together the populist movements that propelled each man into office.
Meeting with Bolsonaro at the White House Tuesday, Trump said he was “honored” by comparisons between the two men’s winning presidential campaigns.
Trump praised Bolsonaro for running “a very incredible campaign, some said a little bit reminded people of our campaign,” noting he believed the Brazilian leader “has done a very outstanding job.”
The two even both use Trump’s favorite term: “fake news.”
“I call it fake news,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Bolsonaro. “I’m very proud to hear the president use the term fake news.”
But the like-minded love fest began days earlier. On Saturday, Bolsonaro’s youngest son, Eduardo, a member of Brazil’s congress, exchanged compliments with Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon in the basement of the Trump Hotel, then showed up in the lobby with a green hat that declared, “Make Brazil Great Again.” The occasion was an intimate screening of a documentary about Olavo de Carvalho, a right-wing Brazilian intellectual considered the new president’s “guru.”
The next night, all three men attended a dinner at the Brazilian ambassador’s residence, where the elder Bolsonaro decried communism — the specter of “socialism” is also a favorite new theme for Trump — and a group of pro-Trump intellectuals schmoozed with members of Brazil’s cabinet.
“They’re starting to talk to each other,” said Bannon, who has made it his mission to unite the world’s right-wing populist movements since being cast out of Trump’s inner circle. “This is going to be very powerful.”
Sunday’s dinner featured Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead, former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Dave Shedd, Roger Kimball, publisher of the conservative literary magazine the New Criterion, and Chris Buskirk, publisher of the nationalist journal American Greatness.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who also attended, said he was surprised by how closely the Brazilians at the table are already following the American right. He said several of his dining companions were familiar with the ACU’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference — a pillar of the conservative movement that in recent years has accommodated Trump-style populism — and able to cite specific speeches from this year’s proceedings.
Another attendee said that Brazil’s economy minister, Paulo Guedes, and its foreign affairs minister, Ernesto Araújo, dominated much of the dinner table conversation, some of which revolved around Brazil’s desire to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and its expected designation by the U.S. as a major non-NATO ally.
After exchanging soccer jerseys with Bolsonaro on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he will look “very, very strongly” at giving Brazil the NATO designation.
Saturday night’s screening drew several dozen conservatives from Brazil, the U.S., and other nations, including former White House national security aide Sebastian Gorka, former Trump transition communications director Bryan Lanza, now of Mercury Public Affairs, and Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who lost his job last year amid revelations that he participated in a 2016 conference that also included white nationalists.
In remarks before the screening, Eduardo Bolsonaro, 34, who signed on in February as Latin American leader of “The Movement” — Bannon’s attempt to organize a pan-national populist umbrella group — praised Trump’s former chief strategist and said that without Carvalho, his father would not be president.
A former astrologer, Carvalho is a Christian nationalist who — echoing some themes of Trump’s presidency — warns of nefarious “globalist” forces like George Soros, Facebook and the Chinese government.
Following the screening, Carvalho, who emigrated from Brazil and works out of a compound near Richmond, Va., took questions.
Despite some differences between the right-wing coalitions in each country, the mingling of the movements proceeded amiably. “Everyone thought Eduardo was hot,” said one screening attendee, a gay conservative. The attendee said he considered making a pointed comment to the president’s son about his father’s long history of homophobic remarks, but decided against it.
Bolsonaro, nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics,” has drawn widespread condemnation in the U.S. for those remarks as well as racist comments, his defense of Brazil’s former military dictatorship and his family’s ties to violent paramilitary groups. But the Trump administration has embraced him wholeheartedly. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended Bolsonaro’s January inauguration, tweeting, “Great meeting President @jairbolsonaro to reinforce our shared commitment to democracy, education, prosperity, security, and #humanrights.”
On Monday, Bolsonaro paid a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley and then spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declaring, “We want to have a great Brazil just like Trump wants to have a great America.”
On Tuesday morning, ahead of the meeting between the two heads of state, National Security Advisor John Bolton nodded to the potential global implications of the Bolsonaro-Trump alliance. “This is a potentially historic opportunity to redirect relations between our two countries, the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “I think it will have a profound impact not just in this hemisphere, but really around the world.”
Bannon said the networking effort would continue after Bolsonaro’s departure. In the coming weeks he plans to host Carvalho for another dinner in Washington along with right-wing contingents from Europe and Japan.