Former US president Donald Trump on Monday (3 January) enthusiastically backed the reelection of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a hardline hero who has been accused of creeping authoritarianism.
In a statement issued along the lines of his frequent blessings to Republican candidates in primary elections at home, Trump wrote that the Hungarian leader has his “Complete support and Endorsement” in elections expected in April.
“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,” Trump wrote.
Trump welcomed Orbán to the White House in 2019, a symbolic acceptance for the prime minister who frequently clashes with the European Union leadership and was snubbed both by President Joe Biden and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Some Trump administration officials argued at the time that the goal was to keep in the Western fold a leader who had flirted with Russia, and then secretary of state Mike Pompeo made a point of meeting activists who ran afoul of Orbán during a visit to Budapest.
But Orbán has increasingly been hailed both by Trump’s wing of the Republican Party and European far-right leaders such as France’s Marine Le Pen, especially over his refusal to accept refugees.
Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host close to Trump, broadcast last year from Budapest and was given an interview with Orbán as well as a helicopter tour of a border fence.
Ben Rhodes, who was a senior aide to Obama, said Trump was making plain that his Republican Party sought a “Hungary model” that includes stirring up public emotion through attacks on minorities and elites while redrawing districts and stacking courts to stay in power.
“Trump just says out loud what the GOP has long accepted: they prefer autocracy to liberal democracy,” Rhodes wrote on Twitter, pointing to Orbán’s past praise of Russia and China.
Orbán has also sought to mobilize support on opposition to LGBTQ rights, with a ban on “promotion and display” of homosexuality and a related referendum expected on the same day as the election.
Orbán, who has been in charge since 2010, faces a potentially serious challenge from Péter Márki-Zay, who describes himself as a traditional Catholic conservative and has vowed to scrap homophobic laws if elected.
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)