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'SOFT FASCISM' MAKES HIM RISING STAR

S.E. Cupp: Republicans’ embrace of one of the world’s worst

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to supporters at a rally in Budapest in April, after his fourth consecutive landslide election victory. He recently said “We do not want to become peoples of mixed-race” or join in Western Europe’s “mixed-race world.”

This week, he has a high-visibility time slot on the opening day of CPAC Texas, the once annual conservative conference that’s become such a successful grift for Republicans, it’s now held multiple times a year.

While he’ll be warmly welcomed in the Trinity Ballroom of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, the list of his anti-democratic intrusions is long, and alarming:

Attempts at obstructing free and fair elections. Undermining democratic institutions, including the media. Expanding executive powers. A far-right politicization of the highest courts. Exerting political influence over education. Bans on speech pertaining to gender and sexuality. Marginalizing minority groups. Promoting ethnonationalism and white pride. Corruption and graft at the highest levels of government. Use of propaganda to mislead the public. Embracing world dictators and autocratic regimes.

It may sound all too familiar, and this list could easily describe former President Donald Trump’s remaking of the American right.

But it also describes Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remaking of Hungary’s political system over many years — and four terms — as the country’s populist head of state.

So it’s probably no coincidence that Orban was invited to speak at CPAC this year. Pro-Trump Republicans and right-wing nationalists have embraced Orban and his hold over Hungary — what Zack Beauchamp calls his “soft fascism.” Or, in H. David Baer’s assessment, the ways in which “Orban controls the pursuit of happiness.”

The things that have made him a fixture in right-wing circles here at home, a rising star in the MAGA universe, are the same things that prompted Freedom House, the oldest American organization devoted to the defense of democracy around the world, to downgrade Hungary to a partial democracy in 2020 — a “transitional or hybrid regime” existing somewhere in the “gray zone” between democracies and autocracies. The nation maintains that ominous distinction today.

Birds of a feather

Nonetheless, Trump has praised Orban repeatedly. In a statement backing his reelection, he wrote glowingly, “He has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so in the upcoming Election. He is a strong leader and respected by all.”

Orban also endorsed Trump, saying, “What the president represents is good for Central Europe, which is why we are rooting — at least me personally — for him to win the election.”

Sounding very much like Orban and Trump, Tucker Carlson has lauded the leader for not allowing “this nation of 10 million people to be changed forever by people we didn’t invite in and who are coming here illegally.” He says Orban’s government offers “a lot of lessons for the rest of us.” Presumably, he means positive ones.

Orban has returned the favor, telling a CPAC Hungary (yes, that happened) crowd that the key to power for the American right was to have their own media — or, in other words, propaganda outlets. He then proceeded to call Fox just that, saying: “Only friend Tucker Carlson places himself on the line without wavering,” and “programs like his should be broadcasted day and night.”

Steve Bannon, freshly convicted on contempt of Congress charges and also appearing at CPAC, once called Orban “the most significant guy on the scene right now,” and “Trump before Trump.” Bannon has tried to do for Orban in Hungary what he did for Trump in America, saying, “All I’m trying to be is the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.”

And, despite his detestable recent comments, where Orban said of Hungary, “We do not want to become peoples of mixed-race” or join in Western Europe’s “mixed-race world,” CPAC will all too happily host him.

Given a platform

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, has justified his appearance by sheepishly hiding behind non-existent threats of cancel culture, saying, “When we silence people we skip the chance to learn why [we] agree or disagree [with] their POV.”

The funny thing is, the new far-right never does go ahead and disagree with people like Orban, because they don’t. It’s obvious to a fifth grader that the point of these invitations is to elevate Orban and other terribles, not warn voters off their bad ideas.

Orban isn’t the first or only strong man CPAC is cuddling up to. In 2021, Brazil’s so-called “Trump of the Tropics,” President Jair Bolsonaro, spoke at CPAC Brasil, where Don Jr. also livestreamed in from the U.S. At the 2022 event, his son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, spoke alongside Trump aide Jason Miller. The younger Bolsonaro is also speaking at the Texas CPAC this week.

What’s next? A CPAC Russia? A Vladimir Putin address at the next CPAC Texas? With the right’s growing embrace of dictators and autocracies, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN. A political commentator and longtime conservative, she is author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity” and co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right: Behind the Myths.”

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