Sometimes it takes decades for the citizens of a nation to know what they really need and want in a leader. At times all they know is that they need drastic change. In 2016, the people of the United States decided that they were tired of politicians and business as usual and elected the ultimate outsider, Donald Trump. In 2018, many of the citizens of Brazil have come to a similar conclusion regarding who they would like to see as their next president when they go to the polls on October 7th: Congressman and outsider Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has been growing in popularity as a candidate for president of Brazil for the last year and a half. In my article from January 2017, “The Trump Effect: How the New Administration Will Impact Brazil”, I reference Bolsonaro, the obscure potential presidential candidate who was becoming popular with the Brazilian masses. In that article, I wrote: “In another very interesting conversation with my Uber driver, he discussed how he felt that Brazil needed its own “Donald Trump”. He explained that the people of Brazil are fed up with professional politicians and that none of them was trustworthy.
In several other conversations with business executives, blue-collar workers and students, the need for a Brazilian Donald Trump was discussed. Names such as business executive and newly elected Mayor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, controversial yet popular member of Congress, Jair Bolsonaro and businessman and entertainer Roberto Justus, who was the host of The Apprentice TV show in Brazil, have been mentioned as potential Trump-like political candidates.” Of the three, Bolsonaro has become the choice to play the outsider role for president.
The attempted assassination of Bolsonaro last week while on the campaign trail demonstrates the fear that the conventional politicians have of change and of losing their power grip on the country’s government institutions and state-run companies. Bolsonaro survived the attacked and is in serious but stable condition. This attempted knife attack on his life, which was all captured on video, will most likely keep him off the campaign trail and out of the presidential debates. Bolsonaro’ s support is solid, and he is likely to see a boost in the polls after the attack. It appears that not even a brush with death is enough to stop the rising tide of the Bolsonaro candidacy.
Jair Bolsonaro, like Donald Trump, is a people’s candidate. He is hated by the establishment politicians and the media. He connects directly with his supporters through Twitter and other social media. He is accused of being a fascist and a racist. Also, like Trump, Bolsonaro was not taken seriously as a candidate in the beginning. However, after consistently polling in first place in state after state, his opposition has awakened. Bolsonaro attracts thousands of excited supporters on the campaign trail. Like Trump, he fills stadiums and arenas with wildly enthusiastic fans. His supporters are diverse with representation from all Brazilian races, both male and female and from all economic levels.
President Trump likes to say that his election is reflective of a movement or revolution. What is happening in Brazil with the tremendous outpouring of support for Bolsonaro, despite the opposition of the media and conventional politicians, can indeed be described as a democratic revolution. Bolsonaro is considered the anti-crime candidate for his tough stance on criminals and undying support for law enforcement and the military. With Security concerns polling as the number one issue, this works in Bolsonaro’ s favor. The second issue of importance in Brazil is anti-corruption and Bolsonaro, although being a sitting member of Congress, is seen as unscathed by any of the government corruption of the last 6-7 years.
When discussing Bolsonaro’ s chances of becoming the next president of Brazil, one must mention one of his greatest assets: his outgoing personality and sense of humor. He, like Trump, can talk for hours without a script. Bolsonaro is very comfortable talking to all Brazilians and seems to sincerely enjoy it. He speaks what is on his mind and in his heart without polished political talk and, like Trump, will occasionally use “colorful” language to make his point.
Much of Bolsonaro’ s financial support comes from the social media. He is the leader of all candidates with small donations from the internet further proving his appeal to the masses. On my recent trip to Brazil, I was surprised to see how the support for Bolsonaro had expanded from the common people to also include the wealthy business class who traditionally support conventional political parties and candidates. It also became clear to me that, little by little, Brazilians were willing to go public with their support of Bolsonaro.
In a way, Donald Trump paved the way for a Bolsonaro victory. Brazilians see that none of the doom and gloom that had been predicted for the US under a Trump presidency ever materialized. On the contrary, they see a steadily growing US economy under President Trump. This has provided a level of confidence for Brazilians who are looking for real change to take a risk and to vote for Bolsonaro. Although leading in the polls, it appears that Bolsonaro will be headed to a runoff election on October 28th with the second-place vote getter. He could face a tighter race in a second round if other parties unite against him. Nevertheless, the timing and circumstances are right in Brazil for a Bolsonaro presidency.
Jerry Pierce Jr. is president of The Interamerica Group a government relations and International business consulting firm with offices in Washington, DC and São Paulo, Brazil. He sits on the board of Hispanic 100 Foundation and is a frequent contributor to USA HISPANIC and POLITICAL HISPANIC newspapers.