Trump likes what he sees in Hungary’s anti-democratic prime minister — and Derek Schmidt

January 5, 2022 3:33 am

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt (left) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were both endorsed by former President Donald Trump on Monday. (Clay Wirestone illustration/Kansas Reflector, Schmidt photo Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector, Orbán photo U.S. State Department, Trump photo Getty Images)

When you play footsie with fascism, sometimes the fascist flirts back.

On Monday, would-be autocrat Donald Trump did Derek Schmidt a solid, endorsing the Kansas attorney general’s run for governor. Schmidt spent much of 2020 doing whatever he could to cater to Trump’s cult of personality, joining a lawsuit to overturn the presidential election and sending deputies to a “war games” conference planning for a Biden victory.

This endorsement and Schmidt’s excited reaction to receiving it highlight just how threatened our democratic system is here in the United States — and in Kansas.

You see, Trump didn’t confine himself to the state level on Monday. He also offered his endorsement to the prime minister of Hungary, Victor Orbán.

Orbán has earned international condemnation for leading his country into an era of democratic backsliding. He has fashioned himself as a populist strongman hostile to immigrants, cultural minorities and free society.

Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

Viktor Orbán has earned international condemnation for leading his country into an era of democratic backsliding. He has fashioned himself as a populist strongman hostile to immigrants, cultural minorities and free society.

– Clay Wirestone

In his inimitably repellent style, Trump gave Orbán a tongue bath of praise:

“Viktor Orbán of Hungary truly loves his Country and wants safety for his people. He 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. He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for reelection as Prime Minister!”

To their everlasting detriment, ultra-conservatives in the United States have salivated at Orbán’s example. Tucker Carlson broadcast from Hungary for a week on the advice of author Rod Dreher. Orbán’s corruption-riddled government offers everything these extremists think they want: laws targeting LGBTQ people, advocacy for a “Christian democracy,” the whole nine yards.

Recall that one of these two countries is small and relatively poor while the other is the world’s superpower and cultural hub. These so-called conservatives have apparently misplaced their patriotism.


‘Complete and Total’

With the Orbán endorsement in mind, let’s take a look at what Trump wrote about Schmidt.

“Derek Schmidt, the Attorney General of the Great State of Kansas, has done an absolutely outstanding job. He is now running for Governor and will be a popular and very wise choice. Derek is strong on Crime, the Borders, and our always under siege Second Amendment. He loves our Military and our Vets. Derek Schmidt has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

You’ll note the similar phrasing, the focus on immigration and an appeal to strength above all other qualities. For his American audience, Trump tosses in hypocritical praise of military members and vets. Does the former commander in chief decide on endorsements based on how closely leaders model themselves after Eastern European rulers?

This is what Schmidt had to say in response:

“Thank you, Mr. President. Kansas was better off with your America First leadership in the White House, and I’m genuinely grateful for your support as we work hard to bring pro-America, pro-freedom, pro-family, and pro-worker policies to the Kansas governor’s office next year.”

One might wonder how precisely America was better off as Trump wildly mishandled the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, started pyrrhic trade wars and spent endless hours tweeting. That’s your standard political rhetoric, though.

The biggest thing missing from Schmidt’s sentences is acknowledgment that this support comes from a former president who desperately sought to retain power after losing a democratic election. He’s celebrating the endorsement of a man willing to shred our representative democracy for the sake of his fragile ego.

Conservatives often ask what kind of example adults are setting for children. Well, what kind of example is Schmidt setting for Kansas children?



Power at all costs

A couple of decades ago, Republicans like the attorney general would be horrified by the news that a Gerald Ford or a George H.W. Bush had pressured foreign leaders to generate incriminating information about political opponents. They would be shocked by the idea the president would call the secretary of state in a swing state and ask him to search for votes.

The only thing that has changed is the willingness of extremists in one party to pursue power at all costs. Trump’s wackiest followers throughout the Republican Party have shown themselves willing to shred political norms.

Rather than standing tall against this outrage, Schmidt has rolled over and welcomed it. In brandishing Trump’s endorsement, he has again made common cause with those who would throw the United States into a Constitutional crisis. It’s never too late to do the right thing, but the hour is late indeed.

Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote the following about Hungary’s Orbán:

“Mr. Orbán and his party have steadily consolidated power in Hungary by weakening the country’s independent and democratic institutions — rewriting election laws to favor his Fidesz party, changing school textbooks, curbing press freedoms, overhauling the Constitution and changing the composition of the judiciary.”

It should be clear that Trump wants to do this in the United States. It’s why he tried so desperately to cling to power in 2020 and 2021.

Why would Kansas’ chief law enforcement officer accept his blessing?

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.