From D.C. to Budapest: the rise of a new far-right hero

Recently, the 9.75 million person country of Hungary has become one of the hottest topics of the American right, even while war wages in Ukraine, Roe v. Wade is being struck down, LGBTQIA+ rights are being threatened and inflation is on the rise. Instead of focusing on issues closer to home, right-wing conservatives have been drawn in by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

 Orbán ran his campaign on anti-migrant policy, cracking down on free press and LGBTQ+ rights, controlling public education and ridding Hungary of ‘interlopers’ such as George Soros, a billionaire who founded the Central European University and has funded several civil rights movements in Hungary. Since coming into power for the second time in 2010, he has reworked the constitution, instituted state-run news (called Magyar Televízión), been warned by the EU about human rights violations, and suspended all elections indefinitely.

On May 18th, the American right converged on the Hungarian capital city of Budapest for the largest American conservative super PAC (Political Action Conference), CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). Notable speakers included United States congressmen such as Mike Waltz and Andy Harris, as well as Orbán himself. This conference exemplified just how much the conservative movement in the US looks to Hungary as the ideal future for US politics. 

Orbán has become a hero to the American right beyond CPAC. Fox Opinions and News host Tucker Carlson – the most-watched American news anchor in 2021 – did a weeklong series on Hungary, including a 19-minute special on Orbán that included an exclusive interview. 

Carlson’s rhetoric echoed that which is used to defend American politicians against accusations such as xenophobia or homophobia. He claimed that Orbán “thinks that families are more important than banks [and] believes countries need borders.” Carlson then used Orbán as a tool to paint the American left as the enemy. “For saying these things out loud, Orbán has been vilified,” Carlson said. “Left-wing NGOs have denounced him as a fascist, as a destroyer of democracy.”

Carlson is not alone in conservative media in his efforts to paint Orbán as an exemplar. In a panel in Budapest, a senior editor of American Conservative magazine, Rod Dreher, claimed that Ron DeSantis and other Florida republicans modeled the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill (FL HB 1557) after Hungarian policies in recent months. DeSantis’ office declined to comment.

Orbán’s government policies emphasize ‘family values’, a concept that draws in right-wing conservatives. American spectators may see similarities with the particular emphasis placed on LGBTQIA+, religious and immigration issues as the main threat to ‘family values.’ Miklós Szánthó, the managing director and head analyst of the Centre of Fundamental Rights, which has significant influence over Hungarian right-wing populism, wrote a report on the European Commission’s (EC) charges against Hungary and Poland of violating LGBTQIA+ people’s rights. On his Facebook, he claims that the EC had the intention to force “homosexual propaganda” on small children.

Orbán’s words echo those of activists like Szánthó. In the Tucker Carlson exclusive, Orbán claimed that “you have to defend your nation from danger… post-Christian and post-nationalist societies [of Western Europe]… opening to large number of Muslims… is very risky… it could be very bad.” 

Heavy restrictions on the press and the electoral process are commonplace in Hungary from Orbán. These restrictions could be compared to attempts on the press and electoral process made by Trump and his supporters, as demonstrated by the January 6th insurrection and his supporters’ claims of voting fraud during the 2020 presidential election. Although the Orbán and state-run media dominate the market, small independent journalists do have a voice. However, the attacks on them are frequent. Szánthó tweeted on May 12th, “Hungarian left press = Bourbons [a person who is extremely reactionary]. They learn nothing, they forget nothing.”

Orbán’s attacks on elections strike a similar tone. In 2020, Orbán backed the passing of a law that allowed him the right to suspend electoral processes indefinitely. Following the passage of that law, Orbán claimed that his right to rule is “coming from god, from nature.”

Former President of the United States and figurehead for the American far-right, Donald Trump, endorsed Orbán multiple times. In his most recent endorsement on January 3rd, 2022, Trump praised Orbán ahead of a critical Hungarian election. “[He has] done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary,” said Trump. “[He has] stopped illegal immigration, created jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so…”