If you are a North American conservative looking for inspirational role models, you have a great range of European figures to choose from.
If your message is hawkish and defence-minded, you could hold aloft Carl Bildt, the former Swedish conservative prime minister, who has played a key role in building a continent-wide bloc against Vladimir Putin’s invasion. If fiscal conservatism and rock-ribbed nationalism is your thing, you could champion Mariano Rajoy, who led Spain for most of the past decade. If it’s stability and tradition, you could praise Mark Rutte, who continues to rule the Netherlands after 12 years.
You could join many others in lionizing Margaret Thatcher, long the gold standard for unapologetic European right-wing leadership. Or Angela Merkel, whose serially victorious big-tent conservatism became the continent’s dominant ideology.
They’ve all demonstrated the things that right-wing politicians hope they can accomplish, and the election victories they can garner. Uttering their names, or inviting the living ones to give speeches, might bolster your cause and boost your electoral prospects.
But surely you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with a European who gives speeches in which he denounces “race-mixing,” argues that religiously and culturally diverse countries are “not real nations” or that immigration of religious minorities is “population replacement” imposed by an “army” of reviled Jewish figures, or that gay rights are a threat to “our future” and that the defence of Ukraine is a mistake that should be stopped and Mr. Putin’s “security demands” met.
That speech, delivered in Transylvania, Romania, last week by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was so beyond the pale that even some of his Hungarian supporters at first thought it exaggerated or taken out of context.
Then on Tuesday, Mr. Orban’s closest adviser for almost 20 years, Zsuzsa Hegedus – the author of some of his conservative domestic policies – abruptly resigned, with a letter denouncing her boss’s speech as “a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels” that went “beyond the limit of acceptability,” “contradicts all my basic values” and played to “the most bloodthirsty race-haters.” She also wrote a letter of support to Hungary’s chief rabbi, who had denounced the speech as overt Jew-hatred.
Mr. Orban, who has been prime minister since 2010 (as well as from 1998 to 2002) and given his Fidesz party four majority victories, evidently crossed some red line drawn by his close friend. But Ms. Hegedus made it clear that the real line had been crossed years ago. She said supporting him had become “more and more difficult” since 2013, when he drafted a speech that declared Hungary an “illiberal democracy” opposed to the individual rights and freedoms of the West, and especially, Ms. Hegedus said, when last year he drafted what she called a “homophobic” anti-gay law. (On Friday Ms. Hegedus reportedly reversed her resignation with a halfhearted note).
If, as Ms. Hegedus concluded, Mr. Orban’s statements are now “an order of magnitude more harsh and unacceptable” than those of “the Western European extreme right,” then surely any mainstream North American politicians hoping to win elections would be distancing themselves from him, denouncing him, and making sure his name has no association with their movement.
In fact, Mr. Orban is scheduled to fly to Texas next week to appear as a keynote speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest gathering of Republican Party members and activists. (He has spoken at CPAC before, and earlier this year CPAC held a special conference in Hungary.)
Although there certainly is an explicitly white-supremacist and Christian-nationalist branch of the Republican Party that gained a mainstream voice under Donald Trump’s presidency, and Mr. Trump himself has closely embraced the Putins and Orbans of the world, it is still surprising to see the main stage of a nationally televised event going to a man whose intolerance has offended the core sensibilities of even the far right.
In Canada, Mr. Orban received an outright statement of congratulations for his 2018 election victory from former prime minister Stephen Harper who, as head of the International Democrat Union (an international organization of right-wing parties), shocked some members by keeping Mr. Orban’s party on board as it shifted to the intolerant far right. Mr. Harper doubled down the next year, paying a warm-hearted long-weekend public visit to Mr. Orban in Budapest. Orban associate (and current Hungarian President) Katalin Novak made a statement welcoming Mr. Harper (who was joined by film producer Robert Lantos) to “our Christian country.”
Those words and gestures looked bad then, and were denounced by many figures across the political spectrum. At least then it might have been possible to argue that Mr. Orban was merely seen by many conservatives as a guy who’d won a lot of elections. After his “race mixing” speech, their failure to distance themselves from him is inexcusable.
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