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The GOP-Hungary connection shaping the '24 campaign

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Amir Levy, Spencer Platt, Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

The far-right populism of Hungary’s prime minister is helping to inspire U.S. Republicans' agenda for 2024, a game plan that targets immigration, LGBTQ rights and — at least for some — the war in Ukraine.

Why it matters: Hungary's Viktor Orbán is something of a godfather to the most conservative elements of the GOP, as his harsh policies on immigrants, transgender people, voting rights and other issues have encouraged U.S. conservatives to push for similar laws.

  • Orbán's influence in U.S. politics has become particularly clear in the past couple of years — from the waves of anti-transgender bills in state legislatures, to Republicans' "anti-woke" agendas, to Orbán being embraced by conservative commentators such as former Fox Newser Tucker Carlson.

  • Since he was elected in 2010, Orbán has reshaped Hungary's democracy, changing election laws to make it more difficult to oust him and using racially tinged, divisive rhetoric to inspire his most dedicated supporters.

  • He's also become close to Russia's Vladamir Putin, is a critic of aid to help Ukraine fight off Russia's invasion — and is a favorite speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which met this week in Budapest.

Driving the news: It was clear in Budapest that Orbán admires former President Trump, who as president was warm to Putin and has spoken out against U.S. involvement in Ukraine — a stance many Republicans in Congress oppose.

  • “If Donald Trump were leading America, no war would be hitting Ukraine and Europe today. Mr. President, come back, make America great again, bring us peace,” Orbán told the CPAC crowd.

  • "All we need to do is to write in large letters and clearly visible on the flag before the elections: no migration, no gender, no war," Orbán said, outlining priorities that would be familiar to America's far right.

What we’re watching: The former ambassador to Hungary during the Trump administration, David Cornstein, has urged Trump's campaign to hire Orbán strategist Arpad Habony, two people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • But the campaign has no plans to hire Habony, Axios has learned.

Zoom in: Trump, his advisers and others in MAGA world have been supportive of Orbán.

  • Jason Miller, a senior adviser on Trump's campaign, this week retweeted a clip of the prime minister talking about Trump at CPAC, which featured panels called "No Woke Zone" and "Make Kids Not War."

  • Former Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and GOP Reps. Paul Gosar (Arizona) and Rep. Barry Moore (Alabama) spoke at the Budapest conference.

  • Carlson — who before he was fired from Fox dedicated several segments of his show to interviewing Orbán — spoke to the CPAC crowd by video, as did Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — widely expected to challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination — met with Hungarian president and close Orbán ally Katalin Novák last month.

  • At the Heritage Foundation's 50th anniversary event last month, which was headlined by DeSantis, Orbán's political director, Balázs Orbán (no relation), was on a panel titled "Strengthening Our Cultural Institutions."

  • This spring DeSantis has presided over an expansion of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which prohibits instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. He's also waged a war against the Walt Disney Co., which has criticized the law.

Zoom out: In 2018 — well before the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ bills that conservative Republicans have pushed in legislatures — Orbán defunded gender studies programs at Hungary's universities.

  • Starting in 2021, he also restricted sales of LGBTQ-themed children's books in Hungary.

  • The EU called that move discriminatory against LGBTQ people.

Telex' Bálint Dömötör contributed to this report.


(c) 2023, Axios


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