DALLAS - It was a Trump rally with a Hungarian accent.
Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has consolidated autocratic power with hard-right opposition to immigration and liberal democracy, addressed a crowd of thousands of American admirers in Dallas on Thursday with a red-meat speech that could have easily been delivered by any Republican candidate on the campaign trail this year.
Orban presented the two countries as twin fronts in a struggle against common enemies he described as globalists, progressives, communists and “fake news.”
“The West is at war with itself,” Orban said. “The globalist can all go to hell. I have come to Texas,” he added, stumbling over a famous slogan attributed to Texas legend Davy Crockett.
The speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) went ahead despite Orban’s latest controversy: a speech in which he railed against Europe becoming “mixed race,” saying that Europeans did not want to live with people from outside the continent. One of his own close advisers resigned in protest, calling the speech “pure Nazi.”
But Orban has found defenders among prominent American conservatives, including former president Donald Trump, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance. On his way to Dallas, Orban stopped to visit Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. In a statement, Trump called Orban his “friend” and said he valued his perspective. “Few people know as much about what is going on in the world today,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, Carlson defended Orban from the negative media coverage of the speech.
“So Viktor Orban is now a Nazi because he wants national borders?” Carlson said. Carlson helped raise Orban’s U.S. profile with a special broadcast from Budapest last year, during which he praised Orban’s Hungary, a country of less than 10 million people with the 17th-largest economy in the EU, as a role model for Americans.
Orban did not address his “mixed-race” remarks on Thursday. But he did indirectly defend himself by saying, “Don’t worry, a Christian politician cannot be racist,” and falsely portraying the Nazis as having been anti-Christian.
He also blamed enemies in the press and on the left for wanting to silence him.
“I can already see tomorrow’s headlines: Far-right European racist, anti-Semite strongman - the Trojan horse of Putin - holds speech at the conservative conference,” Orban said. “They did not want me to be here, and they made every effort to drive a wedge between us. They hate me and slander me and my country as they hate you and slander you.”
Matt Schlapp, who leads the American Conservative Union that organizes CPAC, has defended Orban’s invitation in the name of free speech.
“Let’s listen to the man speak,” Schlapp told Bloomberg News. “We’ll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”
Some at the convention Thursday said they had hoped to hear Orban clarify his remarks on race.
“As a person who, I am mixed race, I’m in a mixed-race relationship, I would like to see what he is going to say to that, put something positive to that,” said Raven Harrison, an unsuccessful primary candidate for Congress from outside Dallas. “I’m not willing to villainize him for that at this point.”
Orban spoke to a half-full but enthusiastic ballroom, receiving a standing ovation and frequent bursts of applause and cheers. “Welcome to Texas!” one attendee shouted when he took the stage. When he described himself as the “leader of a country that is under the siege of progressive liberals day by day,” someone in the audience called back, “Yes!”
His speech was peppered with pop culture references, quoting Clint Eastwood’s dialogue from “Unforgiven” and describing Hungary’s stance against LGBTQ content for minors as “less drag queens and more Chuck Norris.” There was loud applause when Orban described the surge of Syrian refugees toward Europe in 2015 as an “invasion of illegal migrants” and likened them to the armies of Genghis Khan. (Orban did not mention which nation the migrants were fleeing or the conflicts driving them abroad.)
“To stop illegal immigration, we have actually built that wall,” said Orban, who referred only briefly to the negative coverage of his CPAC appearance.
The crowd booed when Orban brought up George Soros, a Hungarian American investor who is one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors and who is Jewish. The applause was even louder when Orban talked about traditional families, and the fact that Hungarian women, upon the birth of a fourth child, paid nearly no taxes for the rest of their lives.
“If you are not married yet, you should immediately find a Hungarian wife,” Orban said. Later, he read from the country’s updated constitution, as amended in 2011.
“The mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our kids alone,” Orban said, cracking a smile as many in the crowd got up and cheered. “Full stop. End of discussion.”
He concluded by looking to elections that will be held in both the United States and European Union in 2024.
“These two locations will define the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization,” Orban said. “Today we hold neither of them yet. We need both. You have two years to get ready.”
Orban’s appearance in Dallas comes after a CPAC spinoff hosted in Hungary in May, featuring a videotaped address from Trump in which he said he was “honored” to endorse Orban’s recent reelection.
In power since 2010, Orban has come to dominate and reshape Hungary’s political system not through a Soviet-style police state but rather through constitutional changes and the weakening of civil society. He has alienated NATO allies with opposition to punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. Orban’s increasing isolation in Europe has added urgency to his long-running overtures to bolster relations with the United States through the Republican Party.
CPAC Hungary was a celebration of Orban’s policies, including its sidelining of mainstream media. Several of the outlets that applied to cover the conference were denied credentials. Schlapp said that didn’t do much to change the coverage.
“I went out and gave a press conference and they still called me a white nationalist,” Schlapp recalled. “I was like, I don’t know if it does any good, if that’s what their editors are intent on them writing.”
In his own speech at CPAC Hungary, Orban called his country “the laboratory in which we tested the antidote to dominance by progressives,” listing 12 points for conservative success - from prioritizing economic growth to “expos[ing] your enemies’ intentions.”
That approach has clicked with American conservatives. Under Schlapp’s leadership, the American Conservative Union has organized more CPACs around the world and also invited right-wing populists to address the crowds in the United States.
A year before voters in Britain voted to leave the European Union, Brexit Party founder Nigel Farage got a high-profile CPAC speaking slot. Three years later, the crowd got to hear from Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a politician and niece of Marine Le Pen, standard-bearer of France’s far-right party. After the 2018 election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Schlapp’s group began holding conferences in Brazil, where politicians from the leading right-wing party discussed how to defeat a left that “denies family values.”
Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, said at a conservative academic conference last year that the “childless left” was undermining America, and he pointed to Orban’s policy of generous tax breaks for parents who have three or more children.
“Why can’t we do that here?” Vance asked. “Why can’t we actually promote family formation?”
After Orban’s party won this year’s election, One America News anchor Jack Posobiec celebrated on a podcast hosted by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. “He stands for nationalism. He stands for borders,” Posobiec told Kirk. “He stands for sovereign national identity for his people, and standing up for a new type of conservatism where it’s not about tax cuts to corporations; [it’s] about taking the family unit and centering it.”
Both Vance and Posobiec will speak to the conference Friday.