Allying an anti-corruption and anti-communism discourse with a vague desire for change, Jair Messias Bolsonaro won the turbulent 2018 Brazilian presidential election, surpassing movements like #EleNão and #LulaLivre, which opposed Bolsonaro and demanded the release from jail of former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. In a polarized country that was experiencing its first presidential election since the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, the Brazilian left could have created a unified opposition to Bolsonaro, combining multiple leftist parties in a pro-democracy coalition against a candidate who explicitly praises the 20th-century Brazilian civil-military dictatorship. However, ideological and strategic differences among left-wing parties mitigated their chances against Bolsonaro.
One could argue that the electorate should be deemed the sole actor responsible for electing Bolsonaro. In Brazil, votes are counted directly (there is no structure like the electoral college in the US), so the democratic erosion seen there in the past few years could have been prevented or reversed had the citizens chosen another candidate, right? The problem with this mindset is that it expects too much from a citizenry that endorses democracy.  According to a study with American citizens, in a highly polarized environment, many pro-democracy voters might sacrifice their democratic values to elect a would-be autocrat from their own party. Thus, although the public response to extremism is important, the stance that political parties and their leaders take is even more relevant, since parties function as a filter for candidates. 
To filter out anti-democracy candidates like Bolsonaro, political parties must isolate and defeat them.  Seeing that many right-wing leaders were siding with Bolsonaro during the elections, the leftist parties could have employed some strategies to isolate and oppose him as much as possible. Among these possibilities, they could have explicitly endorsed another candidate and formed a coalition against Bolsonaro.
Lack of Overt Endorsement for an Opponent
One of the problems of the Brazilian left in 2018 was that many of its leaders did not overtly endorse a candidate other than Bolsonaro even in the second round of the election, when he was competing solely against Fernando Haddad, from the leftist Workers’ Party (PT). To illustrate how the explicit support by political leaders could have helped Haddad, let’s look at examples from other countries. In France, for instance, the outright support to Emmanuel Macron by politicians who were not in his party influenced more voters to choose Macron in 2017.  On the other hand, famous Republicans in the US (including figures like George W. Bush) did not support Hillary Clinton in 2016, instead opting to endorse either Trump or neither candidate.  Similarly in Brazil, prominent leftist politicians (like former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso) remained silent or attacked Bolsonaro without endorsing Haddad during the second round of the 2018 election.
Lack of a Unified Coalition against Bolsonaro
Marina Silva, one of the presidential candidates from the first round, supported Haddad publicly in the second round. Nevertheless, she complained about Haddad’s party. According to her, PT remained in a game of “electoral desperation” without a desire to be “a true democratic alternative.” More specifically, although Lula (PT’s favorite candidate) was in jail, Haddad’s campaign relied on Lula’s legacy as a former president, using slogans like “Haddad is Lula“. In this way, the Workers’ Party isolated itself, trying to relive the figure of Lula and remain the hegemon of the Brazilian left instead of forming a strong coalition with other parties against Bolsonaro. When Haddad changed his discourse in the second round to separate his image from Lula, it was too late to save his candidacy.
The Brazilian left-wing parties should have formed a coalition at the very beginning of the election race. When faced with extremist candidates like Bolsonaro, it is important for mainstream parties to create a unified front to defeat them.  This strategy worked multiple times in different countries, such as Belgium and Finland in the 1930s, Austria in 2016, among others.  However, Brazilian leftist parties did not follow this approach. In an interview in 2019, Rui Costa, governor of a Brazilian state and member of the Workers’ Party, lamented PT’s ideological insistence in Lula. To Costa, PT should have supported Ciro Gomes, a candidate who was affiliated to another party. The fragmentation of parties’ preferences and the resulting exorbitant political competition — there were 13 presidential candidates in the first round — weakened possible coalitions and fostered political instability.
Too Close to the Sun
In this way, PT’s isolationism, combined with the lack of overt support by prominent left-wing politicians for a candidate other than Bolsonaro, generated unsuccessful, fragmented campaigns against him. By trying to fly too high based on Lula’s legacy, PT ended up falling in the second round. A Brazilian Icarus, hopefully PT and the rest of the left wing will have learned to use their experience (and the experience of other countries) to strive to change the outcome of the next election in a unified effort. That is, if Brazilian democracy does not erode too fast before 2022.
 Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Como as Democracias Morrem, trans. Renato Aguiar (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2018), 30.
 Levitsky and Ziblatt, 31.
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Image from unsplash.com.
Giacomo, I thought your post was great! After studying deeply Venezuelan-Brazilian relationships, I do agree with you that the Brazilian Left fell way short in the second round of elections during the Presidential race. I believe not only was Haddad’s candidacy was isolated by the lack of support, but it also failed to gain the support of its successor. If Haddad would have taken a deeper role at following the legacy of Lula and attack Bolsonaro directly rather than change his discourse, he could have potentially gained more support. Despite this, Bolsonaro had amounting support, and his atempted murder gained empathy from all sectors of the Brazilian population. Svolik in her 2017 paper established how people are likely to trade democratic principles for partisan interests like other left wing leaders have done in Latin America. In my post about the Forum of Sao Paulo, I discussed how Bolsonaro used to his advantage the same tactics other left parties had used to win elections, which was using a populist agenda and antagonizing the the opposite party. In this case, Haddad fell short to create a narrative that would put Bolsonaro as an authoritarian figure, despite the multiple controversial things he’s said. With the collapse of Venezuela, and a traumatized population in Brazil after the corruption scandals of Dilma Rousseff and Lavajato, a Haddad victory would be a setback. Bolsonaro instead gained support from the fear of the population, while Haddad rellied solely on saving his political image.