DALLAS – “Oh, that was very inspiring;” was a CPAC participant’s response to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech on Thursday.
“He’s a great leader, he had a lot of great messages,” Linda Ellison, 63, continued. “Some things we should install here in the United States.”
Ellison, like many other attendees at the annual rally of conservative GOP activists, was well aware that Orban’s appearance at the convention in Dallas, Texas, was mired in controversy. A week earlier, he had given a speech at an annual event in Hungary, in which he said “we don’t want to become half-breeds”. In response to his remarks, one of his longtime advisers resigned, calling it “pure Nazi talk” “worthy of Goebbels”.
Orban appeared to reference this controversy when he took the stage at CPAC, in front of a sea of red MAGA hats and glittering red-white-blue cowboy hats, and under this year’s slogan “AWAKE NOT WOKE ” to deliver a speech charged with Christian nationalism.
“I think you managed to confuse a lot of people by inviting me, for example, the left-wing media,” Orban said. “I can already see tomorrow’s headlines: ‘European far-right racist and anti-Semitic strongman, Putin’s Trojan Horse, delivers speech at Conservative Conference.’ But I don’t want to give them ideas. They know best how to write fake news.
The crowd laughed.
In his 35-minute speech, Orban told the crowd that they were at war with their fellow Americans. “The American Democrats didn’t want me here and they did everything to drive a wedge between us. They hate and slander me and my country, and they hate and slander you and the America you represent,” Orban said. “The Liberals didn’t want me here because they knew what I was going to tell you. Because I am here to tell you that we must join forces.
Orban’s appearance at CPAC coincides with the rise of Christian nationalism in the United States, which presents culture war issues, such as LGBTQ rights, pronouns, drag shows or the 2020 election results, as primordial battlegrounds between good and evil. This framework not only undermines America’s founding philosophy of separation between church and state, but it lays the groundwork for justifying bigotry against protected groups in the name of Christianity.
“We must be brave enough to address even the most sensitive issues: migration, gender and the clash of civilizations,” Orban said from the podium. “Don’t worry, a Christian politician can’t be racist. We must therefore never hesitate to strongly challenge our adversaries on these issues. Our Christian values prevent us from going too far.
When he nominated George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire philanthropist, loud boos rang out in the auditorium. Orban spoke out against immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. “Family ties should be based on marriage or the relationship between parents and children,” Orban said. “In short, the mother is a woman. The father is a man. And leave our children alone. Full stop.” Orban was then applauded, and when he finished his speech, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Back in the exhibit hall, Daniel Escobedo, 19, president of the Texas Young Curators at Baylor University, said Orban’s speech was the highlight of his day. “I liked Viktor Orban the most,” Escobedo said. “Very impassioned speech.”
Asked about Orban saying he doesn’t want Hungarians to become “mixed-race people,” Escobedo wasn’t too bothered. “Hungary is for the Hungarian people,” Escobedo said. “And I feel like if the Hungarian people voted for Viktor Orban, it’s up to the Hungarian people to decide.”
“I can see why Hungarians, you know, they just want to have, like, Hungarians around them, people who are like first-generation immigrants,” Escobedo continued. “I don’t think it’s really white nationalist. You know, it’s not like they kill them in the street or anything, it’s not like there’s a genocide. I think it’s just a matter of, you know, I guess Hungarians know who they want in the country.
Even before Orban’s speech on Thursday, CPAC attendees were prepared to ignore his “mestizo” comments. “Ah yes, I heard that. There was the context involved, and if I remember correctly, I heard that in that context, it’s not that bad,” said Bill Carson, who was attending CPAC for the first time this year. (Here is the translated transcript of Orban’s remarks in full). Carson said that “in the larger scheme” and “generally,” he has no problem with “the hybridization of the human race.”
But he thinks it’s unfair to label Orban’s comments as “white nationalist”. “It’s quick for haters to come up with an idea like that, then say it, and then I have to defend myself against it,” Carson said. As for the longtime Orban employee who quit in response, he saw similarities in former President Donald Trump’s experiences around the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. around,” Carson said. “People who retire with issues like this can benefit themselves. I have no respect for that.”
“Why would this be a controversy? asked another attendee, Ron Weissman, when asked about Orban’s comments. “They don’t want to mix cultures. Each country should go its own way.
Only one CPAC attendee interviewed by VICE News expressed disappointment with Orban’s appearance. Barry Bridger, 82, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel who fought in Vietnam, called Orban’s remarks “totally absurd”. “Everyone has the opportunity to walk up to that table, make their own judgments and decisions,” Bridger said. “It’s not just about them, individuals or me. It’s about all of us.
When asked if he thought CPAC made a mistake in inviting Orban, he replied, “I’m not making that call, but I probably wouldn’t.”
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter.