America’s far-right embraces Hungary’s autocratic president

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist rhetoric and embrace of culture wars has long made him the black sheep of Europe. But what isolates him among his European contemporaries has endeared him to the American right, and he was welcomed in Dallas, Texas, this week with open arms at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Laura Barrón-López reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's nationalist rhetoric and embrace of culture wars has long since soured his standing among other leaders in Europe.

    But what isolates him among his European colleagues has endeared him to the American right.

    Laura Barrón-López has more.

  • Announcer:

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is Texas.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Republicans are doubling down on their love affair with Viktor Orban.

    Long known for his anti-immigration policies, in a recent xenophobic speech, Orban likened migrants to a flood being forced upon Hungary and decried a mixed-race society. Still, Orban was welcomed with open arms by Republican leaders.

    As seen here in video produced by his staff, Orban trekked to Bedminster, New Jersey, where he met face-to-face with former President Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: We love Hungary.

  • Announcer:

    Ladies and gentlemen…

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And, in Dallas, Texas, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC…

  • Announcer:

    … Viktor Orban.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Orban received keynote treatment.

    Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary: Now the West is at war with itself.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    He painted Hungary and white Christian Americans as allies in the struggle against a progressive global order.

  • Viktor Orban:

    I am here to tell you that our values, the nation, Christian roots, and family can be successful in the political battlefield. We made these values successful and mainstream in Hungary. Don't worry. A Christian politician cannot be racist.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And went on to provide counsel on how best to achieve that vision of America.

  • Viktor Orban:

    In order to win, it is not enough to know what you are fighting for. You also have to know how you should fight. My answer is, play by your own rules.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    But this week's reunion was not the beginning of the right's fascination with Orban.

    Before Republicans launched today's culture war in the U.S., Orban did it first, and has been lauded by conservative media figures like FOX News host Tucker Carlson.

  • Tucker Carlson, FOX News Anchor:

    He believes countries need borders. For saying these things out loud, Orban has been vilified.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And as Kim Lane Scheppele, a constitutional scholar at Princeton, explains, the bond between Republicans and Orban goes back years.

  • Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University:

    And Orban's election campaigns in 2010 and 2014 were run by American Republican Party electoral consultants.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Orban's white nationalist ideology has isolated him from other European Union leaders, and he has incurred sanctions from the European Union. He's adopted anti-immigration policies and has campaigned against the LGBTQ community.

  • Viktor Orban:

    We decided we don't need more genders. We need more rangers.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Viktor Orban:

    Less drag queens, and more Chuck Norris.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Over the last 12 years, Orban successfully transformed Hungary's democracy into an autocracy.

    Experts in autocratic governments warn that Orban is giving Republicans a blueprint to replicate.

    Scheppele describes Orban as a legalistic autocrat, someone who dismantles the law to achieve their constitutional aims.

  • Kim Lane Scheppele:

    When you see that Orban wins these overwhelming election majorities, it turns out that actually only about a third of that is enthusiastic support for him, and the rest of it are various smoke and mirrors tricks that he's put in place.

    Pliant parliaments, gerrymandering, and packed courts was a big piece of why Orban was able to rig the rules and win every election since. And now we see those tactics coming here.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Trump's multipronged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results failed. But Scheppele said a case being considered by the Supreme Court on what's known as the independent state legislature theory could provide the pathway for Trump or Republicans to copy Orban's consolidation of power.

    If embraced by justices, the theory would allow state legislatures, not states as a whole, to shape the rules for federal elections.

  • Kim Lane Scheppele:

    If the Republicans could just get out of the way, the local governors and the local courts, they would really have a shot at designing the rules for the federal elections and therefore winning. So the independent state legislature theory would be the constitutional confirmation that that particular plan has succeeded.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    As of this year, Republicans controlled 30 state legislatures to Democrats' 17. This midterm election cycle, many Republican candidates have spread lies that Trump won in 2020 and that American elections are rigged. And they're running for offices that directly oversee election laws.

  • Kim Lane Scheppele:

    Well, it's very easy to sort of say, well, this is just a political disagreement. But, actually, it's democracy dying right in front of us.

    It is through free and fair elections that brings a power of a leader with autocratic tendencies, who then uses the power of the state and the power of lawmaking to undermine democratic institutions.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Last year, a global watchdog listed the United States as a backsliding democracy for the first time. This fall will be a the first test of whether Orban's vision starts to become an American reality.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez.

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