Why are conservatives welcoming Hungary's divisive Viktor Orban at CPAC?

The authoritarian leader sparked outrage over comments on "mixed-race" nations.

August 4, 2022, 4:00 PM

Fresh off a meeting with Donald Trump and facing criticism for his comments on "mixed-race" nations, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban was welcomed by conservatives at their annual convention this week.

Orban kicked off the Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as CPAC, in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday afternoon, with a speech titled, "How We Fight."

"My country, Hungary, is the Lone Star State of Europe," Orban said, introducing himself as an "old-fashioned freedom fighter."

In the 30-minute speech, which was met with a standing ovation, Orban railed against the "leftist media" and progressive liberals as he called for conservatives to be "brave enough to address even the most sensitive questions: migration, gender and the clash of civilizations."

Orban's appearance alongside high-profile Republican figures, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Fox News host Sean Hannity, has raised eyebrows amid international backlash to his authoritarian leadership and far-right rhetoric on migration and LGBTQ issues.

Most recently, he was under fire for a July 23 speech in which he said he wanted to prevent his country from becoming a "mixed-race" society.

"We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race," he said.

Orban continued, "Migration has split Europe in two -- or I could say that it has split the West in two. One half is a world where European and non-European peoples live together. These countries are no longer nations: they are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples."

A longtime associate of Orban resigned over the remarks, calling it a "pure Nazi" speech. The International Auschwitz Committee said survivors of the Holocaust viewed his statements as "hollow, ignorant and dangerous."​​

PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (not pictured) hold a joint press conference upon Orban's official visit, July 28, 2022, in Vienna, Austria.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (not pictured) hold a joint press conference upon Orban's official visit, July 28, 2022, in Vienna, Austria.
Michael Gruber/Getty Images

Despite this, he's received a friendly reception so far from big-name conservatives.

On his way to CPAC, Orban met with Trump at his New Jersey golf club. Trump is slated to headline the convention on Saturday.

"Great spending time with my friend," Trump said in a statement. "We discussed many interesting topics — few people know as much about what is going on in the world today. We were also celebrating his great electoral victory in April."

Conservative media have also given Orban a platform, with Fox's Tucker Carlson traveling to Hungary for a week last year to profile the leader.

But what is Orban's appeal to American conservatives?

Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor of sociology and international affairs at Princeton University, says Orban is providing a blueprint on how to be electorally successful.

"Just like Sweden was the model of the social democratic state, Orban has provided this model for leading the culture wars and ending by denying the liberals any possibility of being elected," Scheppele told ABC News.

"It's this little country that shows your policies work in some actual location," she added.

Scheppele said not only are conservatives looking at his policies on migration or LGBTQ issues, but also his use of the power of his office to rewrite the Constitution and remake the nation's courts to his liking.

"Orban could be a model to American conservatives on a lot of different dimensions, and none of that would be good for the future of constitutional democracy," Scheppele said.

In his CPAC address, Orban said his nation and American conservatives face the same challenges.

"I’m here to tell you that we should unite our forces because we Hungarians know how to defeat the enemies of freedom on the political battlefield," he said.

Thursday's speech wasn't the first time Orban has addressed CPAC members. He spoke at a special CPAC session in Hungary in May, in which he called Hungary "the bastion of conservative Christian values in Europe."

"Let's listen to the man speak," CPAC chair Matt Schlapp said in an interview at the America First Policy Institute summit after Orban's controversial speech, according to Bloomberg. "We'll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it."

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