But in recent weeks Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has taken his fixation with the US leader to new heights, livestreaming himself on Facebook as he watched his political idol in action.
More than 4,000 miles to the south, at the heart of Brazil’s very own political swamp, Bolsonaro sat down to watch – filming himself viewing Trump’s entire hour-long address and offering the occasional aside to the camera, hailing his North American hero or berating foes in politics and the press.
“We’re not the only ones with backstabbers in politics,” Bolsonaro sniped of Mitt Romney’s decision to vote against Trump in the impeachment trial. “They’ve found a Republican rat too.”
Critics have derided Bolsonaro’s Trumpian transmissions – the latest of which lasted 73 minutes – as an obsequious waste of presidential time.
“It’s pitiful,” complained Lobão, a Brazilian rock star who voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 but has since become one of his harshest critics.
Lobão said he was perplexed by Bolsonaro’s “amorous incontinence” towards Trump. How, the musician wondered, could Brazil’s president express such “snivelling, doormat like adoration” of a US leader while simultaneously being a hardline nationalist?
The leftwing senator Humberto Costa warned Brazilians would pay a high price for Bolsonaro’s fandom. “It’s not enough to be a doormat. One must show oneself to be a doormat,” Costa tweeted.
But Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, saw method in what many call kowtowing.
“I actually think this is serious and effective political messaging. Listening to Trump sends a strong symbolic message to Bolsonaro’s base that he is also leading the country away from socialism.
“A lot of Brazilians look at it and see boot-licking and betrayal of national sovereignty. But at least a third of the country looks at it and understands what he means and is pretty happy with it,” Winter added.
“In the minds of Bolsonaro followers, the US means capitalism, prosperity and public safety – the ability to have a gun, a growing economy. I think it’s really effective with his base.”
In Thursday’s broadcast, Bolsonaro berated those who accuse him of brown-nosing.
“Some people criticize me: ‘Look at him, licking Trump’s boots,’” he said, adding: “Look, you idiot, when they were sucking up to Maduro, Chávez and Fidel Castro you didn’t say anything, did you?
“I’m not worried about this,” the rightwing populist added. “If people want to criticize, that’s their right. But make it thoughtful, constructive criticism. Don’t just try to do the US president and me down.”
Critics are not just from Brazil’s left.
Winter said many senior military figures were uncomfortable with Bolsonaro’s courtship of Trump.
“I know for a fact the armed forces don’t like this symbolism because they are loyal to Brazil first, and Bolsonaro second. I’ve spoken with many generals who hate the fact that he’s out there saluting the American flag.”
But Winter suspected the live streams – which many believe are the brainchild of Bolsonaro’s politician son Eduardo, Steve Bannon’s representative in South America – would continue and that Trump would approve.
“I know … from people in the administration that Trump loves having an acolyte in any part of the world – but especially in a large, relevant country like Brazil. It appeals to his ego – and we know how important that is.”