During a busy May that saw his “infrastructure week” flop and his bellicose posturing toward Iran temporarily thwarted, President Donald Trump found time to roll out the red carpet for Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary. Since his election nine years ago, Orbán has built a razor wire fence, caged refugees in shipping containers, and recruited “border hunters” to patrol the frontier for crossers. For good measure, he also took control of much of Hungary’s press and rewrote its constitution. Such moves might once have given the Republican establishment pause—in 2014, John McCain called Orbán “a neofascist dictator”—but in May, some members of the GOP cheered his arrival. “Instead of howling about fascism, why not acknowledge the Hungary PM’s points while criticizing his excesses?” The American Conservative asked. The Atlantic published an interview that focused on Orbán’s friendships and love of soccer.
Their sudden warmth shouldn’t come as a surprise; Orbán has a long history with the GOP. In 2008, he hired the Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein to reimagine his flailing party, Fidesz. Finkelstein made a simple suggestion: exploit the ugliest legacies of Hungary’s past. Orbán gleefully took up the charge, embracing the blood-and-soil rhetoric of Hungarian nationalism and laying into Jewish philanthropist George Soros as the symbol of all things globalized and sinister—even though he had worked for Soros’s Open Society Foundation in the 1980s, back when he still had long hair, claimed he didn’t believe in God, and spoke out against nationalist bigotries. (The liberal billionaire even sponsored Orbán’s graduate studies at Oxford.) After Finkelstein made Fidesz over, the party cruised to a parliamentary majority, and corruption proliferated. In 2016, the opposition claimed Orbán had a $750 million fortune. He has now won three terms, a sweep so resounding that Trump has taken up some of his pet themes. Last October, he suggested Soros was bankrolling the migrant caravan, and, in May, he said Orbán was “like me, a little bit controversial” and promised to sell him missiles. “You’ve kept your country safe,” Trump said.