Hungarian autocrat Orbán urges US conservatives to follow his illiberal path

DALLAS (AP) — Autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Thursday urged U.S. conservatives to “take back the institutions,” stick to tough stances on gay rights and immigration, and fight for the next US presidential election as a pivotal moment for their beliefs.

The exuberant cheers and standing ovations at the Conservative Political Action Conference for the far-right prime minister, who has been criticized for undermining his own country’s democratic institutions, demonstrated the growing embrace between Orbán and the Republicans in the United States.

He mocked the media in this country and in Europe. And in a speech he titled “How We Fight,” Orbán told the crowd gathered in a Dallas convention ballroom to focus now on the 2024 election, saying they had “two years to prepare”, although he did not endorse any candidate or party.

“Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance,” he said during one of the keynote speeches for the three-day CPAC event. “We have to take over the institutions in Washington and Brussels. We must find friends and allies in each other.

“We have to coordinate the movement of our troops because we face the same challenge.”

Referring to liberals, he said, “They hate and slander me and my country just as they hate and slander you for the America you represent.”

His entrance drew a bigger welcome than that of Texas Governor, Republican Greg Abbott, who had arrived moments earlier on the same stage. From there, the cheers continued as Orbán weaved his way through attacks on LGBTQ rights, bragged about reducing abortions in Hungary and celebrated his country’s sweeping immigration measures.

‘Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance. We must take over the institutions of Washington and Brussels. We must find friends and allies in each other.

— Viktor Orban

Other CPAC speakers will include former President Donald Trump — who met with Orbán earlier this week and will address the rally on Saturday — Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Republican candidates fresh off the back of primary election victories from the GOP Tuesday.

Orbán’s visit to the United States came amid backlash at home and in Europe over anti-migrant remarks in which he railed against Europe becoming a “mestizo” society. .

One of his closest aides compared his remarks to Nazi rhetoric and resigned in protest. Orbán told the crowd in Texas that the media would portray him as a racist strongman and called “idiots” those who would call his government racist.

His invitation to CPAC reflects growing conservative support for the Hungarian leader, whose country has a one-party government. Orbán is also considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that President Joe Biden has no plans to speak with Orbán while he is in the United States. Asked if the administration had any concerns about CPAC inviting such an executive to speak at the high-level conference, Kirby declined. .

“He’s coming by private invitation,” Kirby said. “Mr. Orbán and CPAC, they can talk about his visit.

Trump praised Orbán, who has been prime minister for 12 years, after they met this week in New Jersey at Trump’s golf club. “Few people know so much about what is happening in the world today,” the former president said in a statement after the meeting.

For some attendees at the three-day conference in Dallas, Orbán is a model leader who impresses beyond Hungary because of his politics and personality.

They praised him for his border security measures and for providing financial grants to Hungarian women, which Orbán called an effort to counter Hungary’s demographic decline. Lilla Vessey, who moved to Dallas from Hungary with her husband, Ede, in the 1980s, said what she heard in Hungary was that Orbán was not undemocratic.

“I don’t know how it happened that the Tories somehow found out about it,” said Ede Vessey, 73. “He supports traditional values. He supports family.

Scott Huber, who met Orbán with other CPAC attendees at a private event hours before the speech, said the prime minister had expressed hope that the United States would “moderate the influences of extreme left” in the November midterm elections.

The 67-year-old Pennsylvanian said he wouldn’t disagree with descriptions of Orbán as autocratic and upending Democratic standards, but said he thinks that will change over time.

As to why Orbán is winning over so many conservatives, Huber noted Orbán’s attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist who is a vocal critic of the Hungarian government and supporter of liberal causes.

“That’s why I was so interested in seeing it,” Huber said.

Through his communications office, Orbán declined an interview request from The Associated Press before his speech in Dallas.

The AP and other international news agencies were also banned from covering a CPAC conference held in Budapest in May, the group’s first conference in Europe. During the rally, Orbán called Hungary “a bastion of conservative Christian values ​​in Europe” and urged American conservatives to overcome “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life”.

He presented himself as a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy”.

Orbán served as Hungary’s prime minister between 1998 and 2002, but it is his record since taking office in 2010 that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about Hungary’s slide into authoritarian rule. He presented himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.

Last year, his right-wing Fidesz party banned the portrayal of homosexuality or gender reassignment in media targeting under-18s. Information on homosexuality was also prohibited in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements accessible to minors.

Some of the biggest applause during the speech came when he described Hungary’s family setting.

“To sum up, the mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our children alone, period,” he said.

Orbán has consolidated his power over the country’s judiciary and media, and his party has drawn legislative constituencies in a way that makes it very difficult for opposition parties to win seats — much like partisan gerrymandering efforts for legislative and congressional seats in the United States. The process currently favors the Republicans because they have more control over the state legislatures that create these borders.

Orbán’s movements have led international political observers to label him as the face of a new wave of authoritarianism. The European Union has launched numerous lawsuits against Hungary for breaking EU rules and is withholding billions in recovery and credit funds for breaching rule of law standards and insufficient anti-corruption safeguards .

MarketWatch contributed.

Laura T. Thrasher