Commentary

First to embrace – Last to let go

In 2016, Orbán has been the first world leader to embrace Donald Trump for the US presidency – before even Kim Jong Un. In 2020, he was the last to let go.

“I am not in Donald Trump’s campaign crew, I would never have thought that it would ever occur to me that he would be best for Europe and Hungary from the options that opened up. I would never have thought, but the situation is this: I have listened to this candidate, and I have to tell you that he made three proposals to stop terrorism and I couldn’t have put it better myself as a European, what Europe needs.” 

–Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, July 2016


In 2016, Orbán made a big bet on Donald Trump. Who knows what he had seen in him, whether it was Trumpˋs aggressive disregard of reality and make-believe through a torrent of lies and putting of scandals with even bigger ones – or he was really just the perfect Manchurian candidate of Putin. But the gamble paid off – if only in Orbánˋs mind.
Orbán didnˋt get very far with Trump. If Trump knew what a Hungary was, he clearly didnˋt care. And his State Department was not keen (or was not able) to call his attention to the little country whose name reminds him that itˋs time for lunch.
But at the very least Trump recalled the diplomatic staff that embarrassed Orbán for his kleptocracy and the State Department was kept under check, unable to do what they would normally do when they see an emerging authoritarian in Europe.
Orbán could only secure, with great difficulty, a brief meeting with Trump, the man he called “the greatest secular power” in the world when he got elected. According to some rumors, he used his moment to whisper about Ukraine and received a very friendly ambassador in return, a guy who represented Orbán is Washington rather than the other way around, and who stood by with satisfaction as Orbán chased CEU, the countryˋs best university to Vienna – another attempt to get Trumpˋs attention as Trump also disliked George Soros, the founder of the university.

The last four years presented Orbán with unusual leeway for what he was up to, so it is perhaps not surprising that he didnˋt want to see Trump go. Shortly before the elections he claimed that he had no B plan for the case the Donald didn´t win. Orbánˋs foreign minister and diplomatic hitman has even sent Biden a video message that he should clear himself in the corruption charges instead of calling Orbán a Lukashenka-style dictator as he did in his campaign.
That arrogance doesnˋt seem so well-thought-out now. Orbán doubled down on his bet, probably hoping for another four years of undisturbed building of his system, but Donald didnˋt win.
When the American media finally declared the winner Orbán was quiet. Only one of his henchmen talked. He thanked Trump for the last four years and expressed hope that Biden wonˋt “debauch” the excellent US-Hungarian relations that have never been better than under Trump.
Meanwhile, the loyalist public media kept talking about chaos, fraud, etc. about the American elections, interspersed with weather reports and the visibility range from Hungaryˋs highest peak. (It was long.) Sixteen hours after the major networks called the winner they are still quiet about it – on higher command, according to a leak. 

It took Orbán half a day to grudgingly congratulate to Biden – and even then only on his “successful campaign” and not his victory. Then he wished good health – which might be read as a swipe at Biden’s age, rather than heartfelt concern.
Some rumor it is because of what happened after Orbánˋs 2014 election win. Vice president Biden called and congratulated – on the anniversary of Hungaryˋs NATO membership. Hungarian officials tried to pass it off as congratulating on the elections, but the White House website about the call was also missing any reference to Orbánˋs victory.
This is shaping up to be an interesting four years to watch.

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