In the Trump administration, protocol is for suckers, diplomacy is personal — and backchannels are best forged at the president’s private club, Mar-a-Lago.
Jair Bolsonaro, the recently elected far-right president of Brazil, sat down in the Oval Office on Tuesday after backing up President Trump on his nativist immigration policy: “The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions,” Bolsonaro told Fox News. “They do not intend to do the best or do good to the U.S. people.”
At the White House, the pair exchanged soccer jerseys. Trump talked of deepening the U.S.-Brazil partnership, saying he was “very inclined” to make Brazil a NATO-like ally, and backing Brazil’s bid to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the global club for developed nations.
Groundwork for this successful visit was laid in an unorthodox manner: Through at least two visits by the Brazilian president’s son, Eduardo, to the American president’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. There, the younger Bolsonaro rubbed elbows with one of Trump’s sons; had access to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; snapped pictures with celebrity entertainers and Fox News hosts; and was entertained by the Trumpettes, super boosters who call Trump “savior of our country.”
There’s nothing unusual about nations making friendly overtures in advance of a state visit. But on the U.S. end, these matters are traditionally handled by diplomatic personnel. In this case, we know about the Bolsonaro backchannel not from readouts from the State Department, but because of Instagram photos and videos snapped by the members and attendees of the president’s “winter White House.”
The first visit by Eduardo Bolsonaro, himself a member of the Brazilian congress, took place in November 2018, a month after Jair Bolsonaro was elected, but before the man known as the “Trump of the Tropics” formally took office. In Instagram photos posted by Rabia Kazan, a director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, Eduardo can be seen mugging by a painting of Trump…
…and taking selfies:
According to the corporate Instagram account for Best Rest USA, the mattress-maker founded by a man named Juan Gonzalez, who also snapped selfies with Bolsonaro, the event was a “Latin influencers dinner.
The younger Bolsonaro paid a second trip to Mar-a-Lago less than a month ago for a Western-themed gala: “Country Comes to Mar a Lago.” This event drew a more high-powered crowd.
Bolsonaro posted selfies with Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump, actor Jon Voight, embattled Fox News personality Judge Jeanine Pirro, and Mike Lindell, the somehow ubiquitous CEO of MyPillow.
The event was organized by Trump megafan and Trumpettes USA founder Toni Holt Kramer. Other grandees at the same event included “God Bless the U.S.A” crooner Lee Greenwood, longtime Tic-Tac-Dough game show host Wink Martindale and Commerce Secretary Ross. (The United States is Brazil’s second leading trading partner after China.)
At the event, Eric Trump took the stage to praise his father’s economic achievements. Trumpette Kramer was the emcee, and took time out of the evening’s schedule to talk about Brazil. Blasting that country’s previous leadership as “socialist,” Kramer promised the new president is “going to change the world.” She then called up Eduardo to speak, praising him in Trumpian terms as “a wonderful young man who is great.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, who speaks excellent English, worked the ballroom, relating his past service in the federal police force, patrolling Brazil’s border with Bolivia. As captured on Instagram video, he then delivered a line that delighted the crowd of the president’s private club. “Build that wall!” Bolsonaro said. “We Brazilians are supporting you.”
On Instagram, Bolosaro wrote that the event had helped him “aprofundar essas relações” or deepen relationships.” Neither Bolosnaro nor the White House responded to Rolling Stone‘s requests for comment.
On the same trip to America, the younger Bolsonaro also took steps to forge a deeper relationship with former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is helping foment nationalist movements across the globe.
Tweeting a selfie from Washington, D.C., Bolsonaro wrote that he and Bannon were “joining forces against leftist/marxist cultural dominance.”