Trump Is the Heritage Foundation’s Instrument to Bring Orbánism to the US

By Heidi Beirich and Wendy Via

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This post originally ran on Feb. 23, 2024, on Common Dreams

The foundation and its leaders see Trump not for his policies, but as a means to embed Orbán’s oppressive ideology within the U.S. political framework.

In a January interview with The New York Times, Heritage Foundation President Kevin D. Roberts asserted that he views Heritage’s role to be “institutionalizing Trumpism.” The vehicle for this is their Project 2025, which Heritage describes as “building now for a conservative victory through policy, personnel, and training” for the “next conservative president.”

In plain terms, Project 2025 is in fact a blueprint for creating an authoritarian government in which many marginalized communities including LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and women, are stripped of their rights in a manner that prioritizes the religious liberties of Heritage and its allies at the expense of fundamental civil and human rights for all.

The fascinating thing about Roberts’ assertion is that Heritage’s work isn’t really about “Trumpism” as such. What the plan really seems to be based on is Orbánism—so called for Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who is well-known throughout the world for his successful campaign to turn Hungary into an “illiberal democracy” rooted in “Christian values.” Former President Donald Trump, a genuine and frightening threat to our democracy himself, is just Heritage’s instrument, or God’s instrument, depending on who’s talking, to implement Project 2025. Roberts and the Heritage Foundation see Trump not for his policies, but as a means to embed Orbán’s oppressive ideology within the U.S. political framework.

Roberts’ own words and actions underscore this reality. In the same Times interview, Roberts praised Orbán as a “very impressive leader” whose efforts to “cause a conservative Christian political turn” in Hungary “should be celebrated.”

Hungary has stripped rights from LGBTQ+ peopleimmigrants, and women and has deep ties to Russia. Orbán also celebrates Christian nationalism, calling himself a “defender of Christianity,” and advocates for Christian nationalists in the U.S. and Europe to “unite forces.” He has also said that he wishes to prevent Europe from becoming “mixed race.” Freedom House describes Hungary as a backsliding democracy and only “partly free,” and the European Union views Hungary as an “electoral autocracy,” highlighting its departure from democratic norms.

When asked about whether any of this concerned him in The New York Times interview, Roberts merely replied, “I haven’t seen that” and that the assessment is “incorrect,” an objectively incongruous stance given Heritage Foundation’s extensive engagement with Orbán’s regime.

Just in 2023, Heritage spearheaded a two-day private conference that brought together elected members of the Republican Party, officials from the Hungarian embassy, the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, a think tank connected to the state, and pro-Orbán organization Center for Fundamental Rights; Roberts spoke at CPAC Hungary’s conference in Budapest, hosted by an arm of the Hungarian government, with two other Heritage colleagues. At the same event, Orbán condemned LGBTQ+ rights and migration. Their collaboration extended to the Third Danube Geopolitical Summit, backed by Hungary’s government and organized by the Danube Institute, which has close ties to Orbán’s government, underscoring the partnership between Heritage and Hungarian institutions. And, in March 2023, a formal agreement was signed between the Danube Institute and Heritage that would allow staff from Heritage to work with the institute as visiting researchers and further allow for the organization of joint events.

Announcing the partnership, former Danube Institute fellow Lili Naómi Zemplényi wrote, referring to Danube Institute associate, István Kiss, “István Kiss reminded that American conservatives are happy to learn from good Hungarian practices and suggested that some of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ policies, like banning the promotion of gender ideology in schools and educational institutions, were inspired by Hungary’s child protection legislation. In other words, the Heritage Foundation has now become interested in the Danube Institute not only for the geopolitical research that the institute produces, but also due to the institute’s embeddedness in and knowledge of Hungary.”

From these examples, Heritage seems intimately involved with the Orbán regime and its allies and does quite a bit more than “host think tanks,” as Roberts claimed in the Times interview.

Here are Roberts’ own words about Hungary at the 2023 CPAC:

[G]lobal forces are intent on imposing on you a woke ideology that would lay to waste what you’ve so bravely fought to maintain for the past 1,300 years: your culture and your civilization. They are the spearhead of a new global order trying to replace the nation-state with international governance. All regimes have a world view and woke is the ideology of the global regime. But you are standing in the way… I’m here to tell you and [Prime Minister] Orbán, “Thank you.”

Heritage, once an institution that promoted Reaganite conservatism, and Roberts now fervently endorse Orbán’s Christian nationalist agenda and see it as a model for the United States. This antidemocratic, anti-civil and human rights model would be given life if Project 2025 is enacted. This collection of policies and underlying premises will destroy our democracy no matter who is president, though Trump seems most likely to go along with these plans. But in the end, it’s not really about “institutionalizing Trumpism;” what Project 2025 and Heritage want is Orbánism.

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