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These young Republicans are shamelessly endorsing a Trumpier Trump

How knee-jerk antagonism of liberals became the raison d’etre for young Republican clubs.
Photo illustration: A young elephant wearing a red bowtie holding a sign with an image of Viktor Orban.
Viktor Orbán’s Hungary has been embraced by white supremacists and conservative figureheads alike.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, has invited former President Donald Trump to Hungary to help bolster his re-election campaign in advance of the country’s April 3 election, in which he faces growing opposition. It’s unsurprising that a ruthless authoritarian who has embraced a xenophobic nationalist ideology and wants to pursue what can only be described as an autocratic white Christian ethnostate would gravitate toward Trump. They have similarly dystopian aspirations.

It’s unsurprising that a ruthless authoritarian who has embraced a xenophobic nationalist ideology and wants to pursue what can only be described as an autocratic white Christian ethnostate would gravitate toward Trump.

It’s also unsurprising, then, that last month the New York Young Republican Club, one of the oldest in the country, had an unusual addition to its usual roster of right-wing endorsements.

It’s no coincidence that “autocratic white Christian ethnostate” sounds an awful lot like what the far right wants for the U.S. and what it hoped to achieve under Trump: a state run by an ideologically aligned authoritarian who isn’t democratically elected by a majority of Americans, eliminates the distinction between church and state to impose a conservative white evangelical Christianity on public institutions, and intentionally marginalizes people of color to ensure that white people retain their grip on power no matter what.

Orbán’s Hungary has been embraced globally by white supremacists and conservative figureheads (Fox commentator Tucker Carlson broadcast segments of his show from Hungary this year) because it’s a contemporary model for how that might work, and Republicans in the U.S. can use Orbán’s denials — that his purges of nonwhite immigrants aren’t racist, that his victories in rigged elections are actually authentic and democratic and that his mode of Christianity is about freedom of religion, even hs he persecutes anyone who doesn’t practice a narrow reactionary and white supremacist version of it.

Republicans would love to be as successful as Orbán is at implementing these ideas here. The Republican Party is increasingly embracing an anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic orientation, the end result of which is inevitably authoritarianism. In a country that is increasingly diverse and where women and minorities are achieving more equity, there is no other way for them to win elections and maintain power. So they believe they must cheat, the way Orbán does.

An endorsement of Orbán is a statement of the party’s darkest aspirations, but it’s also an open troll. Anyone with even a tiny bit of real patriotism — the kind that believes democracy is a core value that cannot be discarded — is repulsed by the dictatorial regimes the hard right loves to venerate. But the Republican Party has so corrupted its own value system that this is no longer a fringe position. Endorsing Orbán serves to articulate the party’s worst values — vice signaling, if you will — and is also conceived as a partisan antagonism. This kind of trolling is Trumpian in nature and says that if being a “small d” democrat means agreeing with a “big d” Democrat, well, small-d democracy gets the boot.

The Republicans who venerate would-be dictators like Trump and Orbán assume that the strongman will always be in their corner.

I tweeted about the Orbán endorsement when it happened, and shortly after, the vice president of the New York Young Republican Club, Vish Burra (who is also a “special operations” director for Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who is the subject of a sex crimes investigation), quote-tweeted me with “cry more lib.” Republicans like to whine about civility and bipartisanship when it looks like they’re about to be outvoted, but in practice, as a matter of pure policy, this is a nutshell encapsulation of what they want to achieve.

There are no rational small-government, open free-market objectives if they conflict with “cry more lib.” (If you want to see this in action, look also at the debate about what Spotify should do with Joe Rogan and how many right-wing conservatives are suggesting that a private company shouldn’t be allowed to make its own decisions about whom it will support and monetize but, rather, that it should be restrained by the government.)

It’s also indicative of how little the Republican Party values empathy and compassion and how its knee-jerk antagonism of liberals has become its stand-alone raison d’etre. It has more disdain for liberal Americans who would enforce the rights of its members — to vote, to criticize the government, to practice their religion freely — than it does for a dictator who would eliminate the party entirely or blithely put its members’ lives in danger if they happen to be nonwhite immigrants. It appears Republicans will support any atrocity that makes an American liberal upset, because they believe, on some level, that upsetting someone is a display of power — even though it takes no particular genius, anyone can do it, and what it mostly conveys is a deficiency of character.

There’s a strange kind of naiveté to this thinking, as well. The Republicans who venerate would-be dictators like Trump and Orbán assume that the strongman will always be in their corner. Burra, who tweeted “cry more lib” at me, is the son of Indian immigrants, a population Orbán hasn’t exactly been welcoming to. (Orbán is a proponent of “replacement theory,” a white supremacist idea that holds that nationalist identity can be preserved only via racial homogeneity.) He surely knows this and is fine with nihilistically cheerleading for Orbán in part because he doesn’t live in Hungary himself, and neither do his parents. They live here, where the democracy he seems keen on dismantling still technically exists. Perhaps Burra assumes, as many Trumpists do, that the strongmen they advance will embrace them solely as a matter of ideological loyalty. But you only have to observe Trump’s treatment of his own former vice president, his assorted former staffers, his former personal lawyer and anyone else who hasn’t explicitly served his interests by crossing legal and ethical lines to imagine where that strategy might fail.

Member of the New York Young Republican Club aren’t remotely the first GOPers to support Orbán. Even their trolling lacks originality. Orbán has also been embraced by lawmakers and influential conservative writers and commentators. Defenders like to argue that Orbán isn’t technically a white supremacist, but here, former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s characterization of Ron DeSantis perhaps applies: “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s racist.” Orbán’s Hungary has attracted alt-right groups from across Europe and the U.S.

Prior generations of Republicans might have had the decency to be embarrassed at this sort of slavering praise of an oppressive anti-democratic regime or to at least make public statements to that effect. This generation of the GOP just says the quiet part out loud: Authoritarianism is good if he’s our authoritarian and if he oppresses the right people.