DALLAS (AP) — Autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday urged U.S. conservatives to “take back the institutions,” stick to tough stances on gay rights and immigration, and fight for the next US presidential election as a pivotal moment for their beliefs.
The exuberant cheers and standing ovations at the conservative political action conference for the far-right prime minister, who has been criticized for undermining his own country’s democratic institutions, demonstrated the growing closeness between Orban and the Republicans in the United States.
He mocked the media in this country and in Europe. And in a speech he titled “How We Fight,” Orban told the crowd gathered in a Dallas convention ballroom to focus now on the 2024 election, saying they had “two years to prepare”, although he did not endorse any candidate or party.
“Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance,” he said during one of the keynote speeches for the three-day CPAC event. “We have to take over the institutions in Washington and Brussels. We must find friends and allies in each other.
Referring to liberals, he said, “They hate and slander me and my country just as they hate and slander you for the America you represent.”
His entrance drew a bigger welcome than Texas Governor, Republican Greg Abbott, received moments earlier on the same stage. From there, the cheers continued as Orban weaved his way through attacks on LGBTQ rights, boasted about reducing abortions in Hungary and celebrated his country’s sweeping immigration measures.
Other speakers will include former President Donald Trump – who met with Orban earlier this week and will address the rally on Saturday – Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Republican candidates fresh off Tuesday’s GOP primary election victories .
Orban’s visit to the United States came amid backlash at home and in Europe over anti-migrant remarks in which he railed against Europe become a “mixed” society. One of his closest aides compared his remarks to Nazi rhetoric and resigned in protest. Orban told the crowd in Texas that the media would cast him as a racist strongman and dismissed those who would call his government racist as “idiots”.
His invitation to CPAC reflects the Conservatives growing embrace of the Hungarian leader whose country has a one-party government. Orban is also considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that President Joe Biden has no plans to speak with Orban while in the United States. Asked if the administration had any concerns about CPAC inviting such an executive to speak at the high-level conference, Kirby declined.
“He’s coming by private invitation,” Kirby said. “Mr. Orban and the CPAC, they can talk about his visit.
Trump praised Orban, who has been prime minister for 12 years, after they met this week in Florida.
“Few people know so much about what is happening in the world today,” the former president said in a statement after the meeting.
For some attendees of the three-day conference, Orban is a model leader who impresses beyond Hungary because of his politics and personality.
They praised him for his border security measures and for providing financial grants to Hungarian women, which Orban called an effort to counter Hungary’s demographic decline. Lilla Vessey, who moved to Dallas from Hungary with her husband, Ede, in the 1980s, said what she heard in Hungary was that Orban was not undemocratic.
“I don’t know how it happened that the Tories somehow found out about it,” said Ede Vessey, 73. “He supports traditional values. He supports family.
Scott Huber, who met Orban with other CPAC attendees at a private event hours before the speech, said the prime minister had expressed hope that the United States would “moderate the influences of extreme left” in the November midterm elections. The 67-year-old Pennsylvanian said he wouldn’t disagree with descriptions of Orban as autocratic and upending Democratic standards, but said he thinks that will change over time.
As to why Orban is winning over so many conservatives, Huber noted Orban’s attacks on George Sorosthe Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist, ardent critic of the Hungarian government and supporter of liberal causes.
“That’s why I was so interested in seeing it,” Huber said.
Through his communications office, Orban declined an Associated Press interview request before his speech in Dallas.
The AP and other international news outlets were also banned from covering a CPAC conference held in Budapest in May, the group’s first conference in Europe. During the rally, Orban called Hungary “a bastion of conservative Christian values in Europe” and urged American conservatives to overcome “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life.”
He presented himself as a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy”.
Orban served as Hungary’s prime minister between 1998 and 2002, but it’s his record since taking office in 2010 that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about Hungary’s slide into authoritarian rule. He presented himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.
Last year, his right-wing Fidesz party banned the portrayal of homosexuality or gender reassignment in media targeting under-18s. Information on homosexuality was also prohibited in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements accessible to minors.
Some of the biggest applause during Orban’s speech came when he described Hungary’s family setting.
“To sum up, the mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our children alone, period,” he said.
Orban has consolidated his power over the country’s judiciary and media, and his party has drawn up legislative districts in a way that makes it very difficult for opposition parties winning seats – somewhat similar to partisan gerrymandering efforts for state legislative and congressional seats in the United States. This process currently favors the Republicans because they have more control over the state legislatures that create these borders.
Orban’s moves have led international political observers to label him the face of a new wave of authoritarianism. The European Union has launched many lawsuits against Hungary for breaking EU rules and withholding billions in stimulus and credit funds for breaching rule of law standards and insufficient anti-corruption safeguards.
Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.