American conservatives embrace Hungary’s authoritarian leader at Budapest conference

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American conservatives embrace Hungary's authoritarian leader at Budapest conference

In a conference center emblazoned with catch phrases such as “Let’s drain the swamp,” Republican after Republican spoke for strict immigration laws, restrictions on the rights of the LGBTQ community, and an opposition to “woke ideology.” The scenario may have been any recent GOP meeting, but it was really the third annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Hungary, some 4,000 miles distant from the US.

The budapest conference

Despite what international observers have called an alarming backsliding of democratic rights, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian government and small, central European nation have become an unlikely model for a potential Trump second term, as demonstrated by the visiting GOP dignitaries’ praise for them. 

The increased support for Orbán among the American right is a result of the millions of dollars his government has spent on US lobbying and the new relationships that have been formed between Hungarian and US conservative think groups. During his keynote address at last week’s CPAC conference in Budapest, Orbán expressed support for former President Donald Trump’s reelection and characterized this year’s elections in the US and the EU as aggressive. “Restore greatness to America and Europe!” Go Donald Trump! Orbán started in English before continuing in Hungarian. Go, sovereigntists of Europe! Let’s mount up, put on our armor, enter the combat zone, and start the election war.

Embrace of viktor orbán

The Hungarian leader was invited by Trump to his Mar-a-Lago estate in March, and Trump addressed the gathering with a pre-recorded video message that touched on similar subjects. The former president praised “so many patriots in Hungary who are proudly fighting on the frontlines of the battle to rescue Western civilization” and referred to Orbán as “a great man.” The two leaders’ friendship is occurring at the same time as some of Trump’s supporters are studying the Orbán playbook in preparation for a possible White House comeback.Trump ally Steve Bannon referred to Orbán as “one of my heroes in the world today, in addition to President Trump” and called Hungary “an inspiration to the world” in a private video message. 

A successful conservative governing agenda was sought after by American conservatives following Trump’s 2020 election defeat, according to Gladden Pappin, a conservative political theorist who relocated from Dallas to Budapest and currently serves as head of the state-run research institute, the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs. “American conservatives see a prime minister leading a government that truly carried out the campaign promises they made when they look to Hungary.”

Authoritarian leanings

Critics and officials from the European Union claim that in his 14 years in office, Orbán has turned Hungary into a testing ground for conservative policies and undermined protections for civil society and democratic rights. By removing judges, altering election laws to his party’s advantage, suppressing NGOs, and installing supporters to important positions, Orbán has consolidated his hold on power. In 2015, during the height of the migrant crisis, his government enacted tougher immigration laws and constructed a barrier along the nation’s southern border. It reduced room for opposition by strengthening its hold over official media. 

Nationalist rhetoric and populism

The prime minister has also promoted a Christian nationalist view of Hungarian society, passing laws restricting transgender rights and adoption by same-sex couples, redefining marriage in the constitution to only cover unions between a man and a woman, and banning materials related to LGBTQ issues in schools. Those are policies that some Trump allies would love to see him adopt if he returns to the White House next year. Trump himself has previously called same-sex marriage settled law.Orbán’s policy platform “shows you what the recipe is for maintaining your national identity in a conservative way,” Pappin said in an interview. “Conservative politicians in America had this negative mindset toward the government. They need to think about how to use government,” as Orbán has done. 

Criticism and controversy

On the west bank of the Danube River, in a vast park, was a conference facility where the speeches and meetings were held. The location had English-language posters with catchphrases like “Let’s drain the swamp!” and “We win, they lose” that would have fit in well at a Trump rally. One or more attendees donned a shirt that proclaimed Orbán and Trump to be the “saviors of the world” and included their faces. 

In conclusion, the email said, “We look forward to having you attend future events when and if your organization becomes significantly less woke.” Similar rejections were sent to a number of other independent news organizations. The event featured speeches by three Republican members of Congress as well as video greetings from well-known Republicans including Bannon, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, and Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Research Staff

Research Staff

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