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How Viktor Orban's Hungary Is Linked To American Conservatism

Tucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Feszt on August 7 in Esztergom, Hungary. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Feszt on August 7 in Esztergom, Hungary. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

Listen: Hungary’s a textbook case for democracy in decline. Is America next?

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson just spent a week broadcasting from Budapest, Hungary.

Journalist Sarah Posner says Carlson is a latecomer in the relationship between Orban and the American right.

“In 2008, he hired an American Republican political consultant Arthur Finkelstein to help plot his return to power,” Posner says. “Orban returned to power in 2010 and has been running and governing to a certain extent on Arthur Finkelstein’s advice.”

Now, Posner says, it’s Orban who’s offering a model for U.S. conservatives.

Today, On Point: Hungarian authoritarianism, American conservatism.


Sarah Posner, investigative journalist and reporting fellow at Type Investigations. Author of “Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump.” (@sarahposner)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

Is it significant that Carlson was broadcasting from Hungary directly into the homes of millions of his passionate and devoted viewers here in the United States?

Sarah Posner: “Oh, it was absolutely significant. While it’s true, as you were saying in the introduction, that the American right has long admired Orban and his assault on Hungarian democracy. I don’t think that it’s something that has spread incredibly widely in the American right. I don’t think it’s something that your average Fox News viewer might be intimately aware of. So Carlson’s broadcast is widening and deepening the audience for this sort of sanitizing of Viktor Orban’s autocracy and creating, making him a model for America.”

On the state of politics in Hungary 

Sarah Posner: “[Orban] was able to use the 67 vote majority, that simple majority, having that to amend the Constitution. His party amended the Constitution to state that the right to life begins from conception, which is basically an attack on reproductive rights, to state that marriage is between a man and a woman, which obviously is an assault on LGBTQ rights.

“But he also spent a lot of time over the years from 2010 to the present gerrymandering districts … to ensure that he would never lose an election again. Attacking a free press, attacking immigration, sealing the border, stacking the judiciary with loyalists. These are all hallmarks of assaults on democratic institutions and democratic values that experts in democracy are ringing alarm bells about. Not just in Hungary, but around the world.”

When does the story of the relationship between American conservatism with Hungary really begin?

Sarah Posner: “I would look at 2008. When Orban is plotting his return to power, and he hires an American political strategist, Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein. And Finkelstein’s history and legacy in the United States is advising his clients to polarize the electorate. Some of his disciples include people like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. And in the 2000s, he started taking on clients in Europe. And Orban was just one of the clients that he had.

“And in hindsight, after Orban returned to power in 2011, Finkelstein in a very rare public appearance — he died some years ago, but during his lifetime he was pretty reclusive and didn’t talk much publicly about his work. But he gave a speech in Prague where he basically reveled in this new rise of strongmen around the world and in Europe. And he seemed to think that it was a really good thing that these leaders were dividing their countries over issues of immigration, and refugees and religion even.

“And so Orban learns his chops from Finkelstein. And then in 2014, he hires another American politician turned lobbyist, former Congressman Connie Mack, who’s also an ally of Finkelstein. And he hires Mack to represent him in Washington. And to basically burnish his image with the media, with members of Congress, with policy makers. And so basically what Orban is doing is he’s hiring somebody very well versed in American politics and particularly American conservative politics to portray him not as an autocrat, but just as a run-of-the-mill conservative. Who, just like conservatives perceive themselves to be in the United States, under assault from liberals like George Soros.”

On Orban’s approach to religion in Hungary, and Christian nationalism in the U.S.

Sarah Posner: “The religious right was already behind the anti-democracy, even before Tucker Carlson went to Hungary. It was on the religious right that you really saw a lot of the earlier Orban fervor. And a lot of it did have to do with his moves to ban abortion, or same sex marriage or otherwise curtail LGBTQ rights in Hungary. They liked that. They also liked his appeals to not just ethnic nationalism, but Christian nationalism, which is what they have been promoting here in the United States.

“As Jack said, they’ve been promoting this idea that the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and that America in more recent decades has been under attack by liberals who want to take away that Christian heritage by depriving Christians of their freedom to be against LGBTQ rights, for example. Or have tried to take away Christians freedom by upholding a separation of church and state. So this has been the main driving ideology of the Christian right for the past several decades.

“And now they see somebody like Viktor Orban who doesn’t have a lot of the guardrails that we have here in terms of how easily or not easily we can change our Constitution or, you know, checks and balances and separation of powers. And without those things, he was able to just go ahead and impose those sorts of policy or legislative ideas in Hungary. They really admired that. And I think they kind of wish they could do it here.”

Will Tucker Carlson’s visit to Hungary end up having an impact on the United States?

Sarah Posner: “Carlson’s audience is huge. He gets beyond his audience, a lot of play on social media. And he he is extremely influential and admired. And some of his audience might have already heard the pro-Orban discussion via other channels of information that they might be connected to. But many of his audience may not have. And this is, it’s almost as if there had been some gas put down on this end and Tucker Carlson with the match.”

More from WBUR

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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