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US politics

Republicans hail hardline Hungary

Tucker Carlson’s trip to Hungary has made liberals “sit up a little straighter”, says Jared Yates Sexton in The Daily Beast. The Fox News pundit is on a whistle-stop tour of the country: this week he spoke at a far-right conference, attended dinners with Budapest’s high-flyers and interviewed Hungarian PM Viktor Orban. Carlson sang Orban’s praises. He ​​“thinks families are more important than banks,” he told Fox viewers. “He believes countries need borders. For saying these things out loud, Orban has been vilified.” It’s telling stuff. Carlson is the poster boy of right-wing America – his show is the most watched in the country, with an average audience of 2.8 million. For Republicans his opinion is invaluable. Perhaps Hungary is the direction the GOP is heading in? In a way, Carlson is “broadcasting from a foreign land and a possible future”.

If this is the future of American conservatism, count me out, says historian Heather Cox Richardson on Substack. In the past decade Hungarians have watched their democracy erode. As soon as Orban retook office in 2010, he established control over the media, “cracking down on those critical of his party, Fidesz, and rewarding those who toed the party line”. In 2012 things got worse. “His supporters rewrote the country’s constitution to strengthen his hand, and extreme gerrymandering gave his party more power.” The Hungarian PM is candid about his grabs for power. He wants to, in his words, replace democracy with “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy”. But, no matter what he calls it, this is “not democracy at all”. America would be foolish to emulate it. “On paper, Hungary is a democracy in that it still holds elections, but it is, in fact, a one-party state overseen by the prime minister.”

That’s typical liberal American nonsense, says Will Collins in UnHerd. They’re desperate to paint Orban as a monstrous autocrat. Take it from someone who lives and works in Budapest: Hungary is not a “one-party state”. If it was, it would be news to Gergely Karacsony, the anti-Orban mayor of Budapest, who many are tipping to beat the incumbent in the 2022 parliamentary elections. “One-party states do not allow opposition figures to run the capital, speak at protest rallies in front of parliament, and lay the groundwork for a national campaign.” Liberal Americans are projecting their own fears on to Hungary and concocting lies in the process. Trust me, Orban isn’t the “illiberal bogeyman” of lefty nightmares.

Bogeyman or not, this Republican-Hungarian relationship is a fad, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. First, the idea of a cohesive bloc of populists is far-fetched: “Parties that define themselves by national egoism are hardly given to acting in concert.” Second, I can’t see American right-wingers warming to the Hungarian PM’s statist economics. “It is an open question how many Republicans know that Orban part-nationalised private pensions.” And finally, Hungary has spent years cosying up to China and is home to the largest Huawei supply centre outside China. For the GOP, Xi Jinping is the public enemy number one. With all that in mind, “the indulgence of foreign populists crosses from the eccentric to the self-harming”. This love-in won’t last.