Former President Donald Trump doesn’t just have his sights set on the U.S. midterm elections this fall.
The former president on Monday offered a full-throated endorsement for longtime Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a polarizing figure in Europe whom Trump adviser Steve Bannon once referred to as “Trump before Trump.”
The move underscored the fact that the conservative and populist causes Mr. Trump championed as president are facing electoral tests not just in the U.S., but in countries around the world in 2022.
The former president already has endorsed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, another close ally when Mr. Trump was in office, in his tough reelection race in October.
Mr. Orban‘s many critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent in his 12 years in power, routinely clashing with European Union leaders in Brussels over issues such as immigration, gay rights and national sovereignty.
Hungarian parliamentary elections will be held in April.
But conservatives like Mr. Bannon and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have hailed Mr. Orban‘s willingness to stand up to liberal elites and international organizations, challenging the conventional wisdom much as Mr. Trump did in his term.
“Viktor Orban of Hungary truly loves his country and wants safety for his people,” Mr. Trump said in a statement through his Save America PAC.
Mr. Orban “has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so in the upcoming election,” Mr. Trump wrote. “… He has my Complete support and Endorsement for reelection as Prime Minister!”
Mr. Orban and his dominant ruling Fidesz party were expected to face perhaps their stiffest challenge in years when a broad spectrum of Hungarian opposition parties came together in October to back provincial Mayor Peter Marki-Zay as their joint candidate to take on Mr. Orban, hoping not to split their votes as in past campaigns.
But Hungarian political commentators say the ideological cracks in the anti-Orban coalition are already starting to show and Mr. Orban may be on his way to another victory.
Civil liberties groups routinely give Hungary under Mr. Orban low marks for the state of democracy and minority rights in the country, with much of the Hungarian press now controlled by government allies.
Hungary is the only member of the 27-nation EU to be ranked as only “partly free” by the political monitoring group Freedom House.
Some in Hungary itself did not appreciate Mr. Trump‘s gesture, and noted the irony of the endorsement’s timing.
“Few days before January 6, the anniversary of his shameful attempt to dismantle democracy in the US — Trump endorses Orban, the guy who ‘successfully’ dismantled democracy in Hungary,” tweeted Katalin Cseh, a member of Hungary‘s centrist Momentum Movement and an MP in the European Parliament.