Viktor Orban invites Trump to Hungary to boost re-election campaign

Think tank linked to Budapest government wants former US president to pay a visit

Hungary's far-right prime minister Viktor Orban is hoping Donald Trump will travel to Budapest in the coming weeks to boost his re-election campaign.

A think tank linked to the Orban government, the Centre for Fundamental Rights, has issued an invitation to Mr Trump, a government source told the Guardian.

The invitation comes as Mr Orban moves into campaigning mode ahead of a closely fought election due on April 3rd, when his Fidesz party will face a united opposition coalition, in what is seen as the biggest challenge to his rule since he became prime minister 12 years ago.

“People in Fidesz would really like Trump to visit Budapest in March,” said the source, who added that Mr Trump had not yet replied to the invitation. If it happens, the visit would be Mr Trump’s first known trip outside the US since he lost the election in 2020.

Mr Orban was an early Trump supporter, endorsing him as early as summer 2016, and he also publicly backed him in the 2020 vote. The pair spoke by telephone in January, and Mr Trump returned the favour, publicly endorsing Mr Orban for the April election. An in-person visit by the former US president would be seen as a major campaign boost.

“These visits have a huge influence in the Hungarian conservative community, because they see [Mr Trump] as an icon, as someone who spent his presidency in a strong headwind,” said a source close to Fidesz.

Infection fears

One former Republican staffer said Mr Trump is known to fear contracting Covid-19 while travelling abroad and may prefer not to travel.

Liz Harrington, chief spokeswoman for Mr Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Asked to comment on various aspects of the invitation, Mr Orban's spokesman Zoltan Kovacs responded with one word: "Nope."

It is likely that Mr Trump has been invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), due to be held from March 25th-26th in Budapest. It will be the first time a European country hosts the flagship conservative event.

Miklos Szantho, the director of the Budapest-based Centre for Fundamental Rights, told the Hungarian news agency, MTI, that a number of US senators would attend the conference, as well as Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain's Vox party and Jair Bolsonaro's son, Eduardo.

Fidesz is hoping that Mr Trump will join Mr Orban as the event’s keynote speaker, the Hungarian government source said.

"According to our plans, a number of high-profile Americans will attend CPAC Hungary, including politicians, as well as prominent thinkers and opinion leaders on the right. We are certain that any fresh information regarding guests and speakers will reach you in due course of time," said Mr Szantho.

‘Political correctness’

The think tank's mission statement says it acts as a "counter against today's overgrown human rights fundamentalism and political correctness". It is known for echoing the government's communications and creating propaganda videos. According to research by the investigative Hungarian news outlet Atlatszo, almost all of its budget is provided by grants financed from public funds.

Mr Trump and Mr Orban met during a 2019 White House visit, when Mr Trump said the two men were similar: "You're respected all over Europe. Probably a bit like me, a little bit controversial, but that's okay."

David Cornstein, a long-time friend who Mr Trump appointed ambassador to Hungary, said Mr Trump admired Mr Orban for his strongman image and his control of the Hungarian political scene: "He would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban has," Mr Cornstein said in 2019.

After Mr Trump left office, Mr Orban’s relations with Washington soured, and Hungary was the only EU nation not invited to Joe Biden’s recent Democracy Summit. Relations with the Trump camp have remained strong. – Guardian