Opinion: Why conservatives warmly welcomed the leader who suppressed Hungarian democracy

“Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance,” he said, “We have to take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels.” Looks a lot like the former presidentyou Donald Trump, who will be the keynote speaker this Saturday, said Orban of the Democrats: “They hate me and slander me and my country like they hate and slander you.”

Orban is not the kind of leader some conservatives envisioned as a keynote speaker when the organization was founded in 1974, at the height of the Cold War.

At the time, the autocratic state was seen as the most serious threat to democracy. Today, the rulers of autocratic states are treated heroically.

The Prime Minister received a standing ovation when he said: “Now the West is at war with itself. We have seen what kind of future the globalist ruling class has to offer. But we have a different future in the lead. Globalists can all go to hell, I came to Texas.”
As a powerful New Yorker article recounts, Orban’s invitation came as no surprise. Republicans have become increasingly fascinated by this armed authoritarian leader who twists and manipulates the political process to solidify his power and weaken his opponents.
His talk of racial purity went so far that one of his closest advisers for 20 years condemned his remarks. “That’s why we have always fought. We are ready to mix, but we don’t want to become mestizo peoples,” Orban said in Romania on July 23, prompting Zsuzsa Hegedus to castigate the prime minister, calling the speech “a pure Nazi text”. Last year, the Orban administration banned LGBTQ content in educational materials and TV shows for under-18s and tightened control over the justice system.

While promoting his brand of ethno-nationalism, Orban extended his reach to control the education system and the media. He is part of a dangerous group of autocrats who have chosen the strategy of slowly eroding the democratic process and exploiting vulnerabilities rather than simply acting like an all-out dictator. But the results are just as dangerous.

The fact that conservatives warmly welcomed Orban to CPAC is proof that the illiberal and undemocratic elements of Republican politics that erupted during the Trump presidency are alive and well. As Orban’s popularity indicates, the deeply undemocratic tensions shaping the GOP have only grown stronger, not weakened, since the tumultuous end of the Trump presidency. Following his meeting with Orban a few days earlier, Trump asserted that: “Few people know so much about what is going on in the world today.”
The speech comes the same week that several election deniers, as well as participants in the January 6 insurgency, won the primaries. The assault on the 2020 election continues to be a unifying theme in Republican circles. Even though some Republican voters are growing weary of Trump, his rallying cry animates much of the electorate. Indeed, the election deniers are now the Republican candidates in four swing states – Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada. One can imagine what the 2024 election might look like if they win, and the election is close.
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Then there is the continued silence about the January 6 hearings. The House Select Committee presented a powerful case against the Trump administration and its supporters. To explain what happened in public, Reps. Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney showed the intentionality behind the entire effort to overturn the election, including the violence. The committee also used an array of testimonies, videos and images to demonstrate how the entire effort to nullify the election was orchestrated, even though most Trump officials have repeatedly told it that the allegations of mass voter fraud were “bullshit,” like former Attorney General William Barré.

Still, the general silence of the GOP has been remarkable. There’s not much backlash, there’s not much response, there’s no evidence that most of the party can see this as a scandal much worse than Watergate.

The anti-democratic mentality that has taken hold within the GOP remains alive and well. The Trump presidency was just one step in a long-term evolution of a party that has become increasingly radical in its tactics since the 1980s. All signs point to the problem getting worse, which will put our democratic system in constant peril.

Orban’s presence at the convention throws cold water on those who hope for profound change in the GOP after the Trump presidency. The movement called Trumpism is much deeper than Trump. Whether or not he is the Republican nominee in 2024, the party will likely continue to bear his mark.


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