Dallas, Texas, is the perfect host city for the latest Conservative Political Action Conference, where Republican Holocaust deniers and democracy saboteurs from home and abroad gathered this week. Indeed, in July, the Republican Party of Texas, one of the most extreme in the country, adopted a platform that rejects the certified results of the 2020 election, says President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and calls him “interim”. “presided over a surprisingly subversive action that should have made the headlines.
There is nothing democratic about Orban’s methods, which makes sense for such a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
No wonder two autocrats star at this year’s conference: former architect of voter fraud, President Donald Trump, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose system of “illiberal democracy” doesn’t even require free and fair elections.
In truth, there is nothing democratic about Orban’s methods, which makes sense for such a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Like the Republican Party, it technically rigs elections, using gerrymandering to good effect. But he also domesticated the media in ways the GOP can only dream of. In 2018, more than 470 Hungarian media outlets transferred their ownership rights to the Central European Press and Media Foundation, mostly allied with the government, giving Orban’s Fidesz party an enviable influence over 80% of the press.
Orban is also a fan of the so-called culture wars now sweeping America. He was able to enact repressive laws against LGBTQ people nationwide, from a 2020 measure that decreed an end to legal recognition of transgender and intersex people to a 2021 law that banned any representation or discussion of LGBTQ identities and sexual orientations in schools. , television and advertising. The GOP has to settle for state-level actions, like the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that budding autocrat Ron DeSantis pushed through as Florida governor.
All of this gives Orban cult status among some Republicans, who crave his degree of control over the political system and make periodic pilgrimages to Budapest to see his autocracy in action. CPAC held a conference there in May.
The playbook isn’t incredibly difficult to follow. Orban knows that propaganda works by repetition. And his speech in Dallas echoed his message from CPAC Hungary about the need for Hungary and America to be allies in the fight against liberal democracy. Washington and Brussels will decide the battle for Western civilization. Today, we are holding neither, he said in May, putting the Biden White House and the EU in his sights. It’s time to take back the institutions in Washington DC and Brussels, he said in Dallas, urging participants to coordinate the movement of our troops.”
The military analogies and references to collaboration likely appealed to other CPAC Dallas speakers who want to galvanize an international far-right movement. Among them are Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and Eduardo Bolsonaro (whose father, President Jair Bolsonaro, threatened a Brazilian version of Jan. 6, saying “only God can take me out of power”).
And Orban’s pugnacious handling of the controversy sparked by his recent comments about the danger posed to Western civilization by “mestizo” peoples is also instructive in the United States. “They didn’t want me here,” he claimed, the “they” standing in for a supposed cabal of communists, liberals, George Soros acolytes who call him a “strong man of far-right, European racist, anti-Semite, Putin’s Trojan horse,” as he sarcastically put it.
Of course, it is these exact qualities that make Orban so attractive to many on the far right, as longtime Orban adviser Zsuzsa Hegedus has acknowledged. She briefly quit last month, calling her remarks about race a ‘Goebbels-worthy’ Nazi rant, and prompting Orban to claim in a public response that he has ‘zero tolerance’ for racism and anti-Semitism . This, of course, is an outright lie, given his stance on immigration, his relentless attacks on Soros, and more. As for Hegedus, she reconsidered her bold action and withdrew her resignation, publicly apologizing to Orban. Critics do not fare well in Orban’s “illiberal democracy.”
“Only strong leaders can make peace,” Orban told his adoring audience in Dallas, referring to the need for new deals with Russia, China and conservative America. Tellingly, he did not mention Trump in his speech, although he did visit the former president privately at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, while on his way to Texas. As Orban knows, Trump is currently under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for conspiring to cancel the 2020 election. So the Hungarian leader is clearly leaving his options open, signaling that he will deal with anyone who could become the Republican kingpin. In the meantime, he is only too happy to help the GOP destroy American democracy.
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