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Other View: The American right cheers a foreign despot

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on Aug. 4, 2022, in Dallas.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS
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Not long after Donald Trump’s 2016 election, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp traveled to Hungary, where its authoritarian leader, Viktor Orbán, had implemented many of the populist-right policies that had energized the American president’s most ardent supporters. Notably, Orbán militarized Hungary’s southern border to stop the “invasion” of migrants — and he has made base racial appeals.

After a 2002 loss that his Fidesz Party blamed on fraud, Orbán regained power in 2010. As Beauchamp noted, he created “‘soft fascism’: a political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to ‘hard’ measures like banning elections and building up a police state.”

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Looking at Hungary, Beauchamp noted “warning signs for America.” Fast forward four years and one can’t help but recoil at the writer’s prescience. At its annual conference in Dallas last week, the Conservative Political Action Committee featured Orbán as a prominent speaker. He received the kind of rousing welcome that conservatives typically reserve for Trump.

“My government is devoted to law and order without compromise,” Orbán said. “We don’t need more genders; we need more rangers. Less drag queens and more Chuck Norris. There is no freedom without order!” He called for an international Christian nationalist movement that’s big government in nature. Not long ago, Orban said that he didn’t want Hungarians to be “peoples of mixed race.”

CPAC conventions have long been viewed as conservatism’s “bar scene from Star Wars,” given the assorted oddballs who attend the event, but it’s significant that a major GOP-oriented group would embrace a foreign despot. It’s reminiscent of the 1980s, when leftist politicos swooned over Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

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Prominent conservative talking heads and writers such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson even have made pilgrimages to Hungary. Many conservatives now believe that making America great again means emulating the leader of a small Eastern European country who embraces policies in direct opposition to America’s founding ideals. What a sad commentary on the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

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