Brazilian local elections can be fun to watch. Candidates come from every walk of life, and are notably allowed to use nicknames on the campaign trail — and there have been some true gems over the years: a loud man with thick sideburns and bushy hair campaigned as "Geraldo Wolverine"; an elderly man in army uniform and full beard was "Bin Laden for Governor"; and we've also seen a tropical, chubby Spiderman, an old Robin and Jesuses in various shapes and sizes.
Earlier this month, as Brazilians headed to the polls to elect local leaders in the country's major states and cities — including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — there were exactly 78 candidates who chose to run as some form of "Bolsonaro," and even one as "Donald Trump Bolsonaro."
Results are in and 77 of them failed to get elected, including the president's ex-wife, who campaigned as Rogéria Bolsonaro. The Brazilian leader personally chimed in on his social media accounts to endorse the 59 candidates (with and without familiar nicknames) he favored — only nine of whom got elected, according to Estadão de S. Paulo daily.
The elections were a blow close to home for Bolsonaro while he was still smarting from the blow he took from the north, when his kindred populist spirit Donald Trump lost in the U.S. election. The two have formed a bond over the past four years, with similar reactionary policies and shoot-from-the-hip tactics.
Joao Santana or "Donald Trump Bolsonaro" — Photo: Portal da Cidade
The Brazilian president's divisive brand of politics has been honed for years, eventually winding up at the center of the nation's political and cultural life. Like Trump, he exists beyond any party structure, choosing instead to reward loyalty and, above all, family ties: Three of his five sons, Flavio, Carlos and Eduardo, are prominent elected politicians in Brazil and spearhead an influential network of social media accounts that rallies around the president.
Some commentators see the poor performance of Bolsonaro's local allies, coming shortly after Trump's, as possibly marking the end of an exhausting type of politics that has come to dominate the news. Others are more cautious: After all, local elections are often about local issues.
But perhaps the overlooked connection between the Brazilian and U.S. elections is that there is actually no clear winner in either case. The Democratic party was stunned to lose ground in the races for the U.S. House of Representatives, adding doubts about the viability of its more leftist wing led by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In Brazil, centrist and moderate parties made gains in the local contests, which also came at the expense of the other massive political force in the country, the leftist Workers' Party. After having led Latin America's "pink tide" a generation ago by introducing measures that lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty, the party of former presidents Lulu and Dilma is continuing a downward trend that started in 2016 when its defeat paved the way for Bolsonaro.
Yes, elections can be fun to watch — sometimes. Having failed to win a second term, the U.S. president appears to have his eye on running again in 2024. When his Brazilian counterpart gets his shot at reelection in two years, he will need a better performance not only than Trump but also than those 77 other Bolsonaros.