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Why are Trump Republicans embracing Hungarian leader Orbán?05:13
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Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán attends a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor at the Federal Chancellery during Orban's official visit to Austria in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Georg Hochmuth/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán attends a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor at the Federal Chancellery during Orban's official visit to Austria in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Georg Hochmuth/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is opening the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Dallas on Thursday.

Conservatives gathered in Texas to welcome Orbán, but why are so many Republicans cozying up to a man described as an authoritarian ruler?

Princeton University professor and Hungary expert Kim Lane Scheppele says Republican leaders are following an Orbán playbook that involves changing the rules of democracy from within.

“Once he was elected in a free and fair election in 2010, Orbán then changed all the election rules,” Scheppele says. “So now it’s impossible to get rid of him through free and fair elections.”

Orbán is a good friend of former President Donald Trump. In a show of that friendship, Orbán stopped in for a personal visit with Trump at his New Jersey golf club on Tuesday.

And Orbán has shown Trump Republicans how to build support using culture wars, Scheppele says.

“Whip up your base with culture wars. And then manipulate the rules,” she says. “So even though you don’t have majority support in the public, you can go on winning elections.”

Orbán’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is similar to Trump’s — He even brags about building a wall to keep Muslims out of Hungary. Orbán was criticized internationally recently when he publicly made comments about a desire for racial purity that echoed Nazi propaganda.

“What got people excited in Hungary was that he used the language of 1930s and ‘40s antisemitism to refer to races as if they’re separate species,” Scheppele says.

Orbán has long-held ties to the U.S. Republican Party. An American Republican political consultant helped Orbán win office in 2010. Now, Steve Bannon and other members of Trump’s inner circle are planning to pack civil service jobs with Trump supporters like Orbán did in Hungary, she says.

Scheppele says Orbán revoked the civil service law that protected government workers. He fired a swath of those workers and hired his supporters to fill their spots so his loyalists would staff the government even after he leaves office.

“And what you now see is Steve Bannon running these kind of boot camps training thousands of people to go into the federal government,” Scheppele says. “It’s exactly the Orbán playbook.”


Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jahad also adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on August 4, 2022.

Peter O'Dowd Twitter Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

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Shirley Jahad Producer, Here & Now
Shirley Jahad is a producer for Here & Now.

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