Heritage Foundation hosts meeting of GOPers and Orbán associates on ending US support for Ukraine

The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank hosting the event, has not revealed which Republicans will be attending the meeting, but Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio expressed the sentiments of those GOP lawmakers staunchly opposed to extending more U.S. support to Ukraine nearly two years after the Russian invasion.

“What’s in America’s best interest is to accept Ukraine is going to have to cede some territory to the Russians and we need to bring this war to a close,” Vance said on CNN’s State of the Union. “The idea that Ukraine was going to throw Russia back to the 1991 border was preposterous — nobody actually believed it. …

“What we’re saying to the president, and really to the entire world, is you need to articulate what the ambition is, what is $61 billion going to accomplish that $100 billion hasn’t.” 

The Guardian was the first to report on the meeting, which will include “closed-door talks” including Republican Congress members the second day of the conference:

The first day includes panel speeches about the Ukraine war as well as topics such as Transatlantic Culture Wars. It is expected to feature guests including Magor Ernyei, the international director of the Centre for Fundamental Rights, the institute that organized CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) Hungary. … 

The meeting will take place against a backdrop of tense debate in Washington over Ukraine’s future. Last week the White House warned that, without congressional action, money to buy more weapons and equipment for Kyiv will run out by the end of the year. On Wednesday Senate Republicans blocked an emergency spending bill to fund the war in Ukraine.

A diplomatic source close to the Hungarian embassy said: “Orban is confident that the Ukraine aid will not pass in Congress. That is why he is trying to block assistance from the EU as well.”

The EU is holding a pivotal summit on Thursday and Friday on whether to open membership talks with Ukraine. Orbán, who is considered Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s closest ally inside the EU, opposes even putting this item on the summit agenda. He also has threatened to veto $54 billion in aid to Ukraine included in the EU budget. Such EU decisions require a unanimous vote of its 27 member countries.

The Hungarian leader posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: 

  

And it’s no coincidence that the Heritage Foundation is hosting the meeting between Orbán’s associates and Republicans. The right-wing think tank is leading Project 2025, a plan for the next Republican president to overhaul the federal government, fill posts with loyalists, remove constitutional checks and balances, and concentrate unprecedented power in the presidency.

The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism put out a detailed analysis of Project 2025, which it described as a “far-right playbook for American authoritarianism” and “a threat to a multiracial, diverse democracy.”

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Republicans once believed the U.S. was a model for promoting democracy worldwide. Now MAGA Republicans look to Orbán’s Hungary as a model for autocracy in the U.S. Kim Lane Scheppele, a Princeton University professor of sociology and international affairs, wrote in the Journal of Democracy about how Orbán consolidated power after his Fidesz party won the 2010 election by gaining the ability to rig elections legally and apply economic pressure to drive opposition media out of business. 

The Guardian wrote:

In recent years Orbán has championed a transatlantic far-right alliance with a hard line stance against immigration and “gender ideology”, staunch Christian nationalism and scorn for those who warn of a slide into authoritarianism.

Hungary has been portrayed by conservative media as an anti-“woke” paradise and model for the United States. Some far-right Republicans, such as Kari Lake and Paul Gosar, said they would like to see the “Hungarian model” transplanted to the US, especially when it comes to immigration and family policies. CPAC went to Hungary for the second time this year, and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson shot multiple episodes in Hungary touting Orbán policies.

Orbán has returned the favour by lavishing praise on Trump. During this year’s CPAC, where (Heritage President Kevin) Roberts was also featured as a speaker, he claimed that if Trump were president, “there would be no war in Ukraine and Europe”. The Hungarian prime minister has criticised the multiple federal indictments against the former US president and called the judicial procedure a “very communist methodology” in a recent interview with Carlson.

The Guardian noted that Heritage has previously invited Orbán associates to its events. Orbán’s political director Balazs Orban (no relation) was invited to speak at the celebration of Heritage’s 50th anniversary last April.

Heritage INstitute President Kevin Roberts repeatedly praised the Hungarian leader on X:

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As early as May 2022,  Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the think tank’s lobbying operation, released a statement opposing a $40 billion Ukraine aid bill that the then Democratic-controlled House was about to vote on. She wrote:

This proposed Ukraine aid package takes money away from the priorities of the American people and recklessly sends our taxpayer dollars to a foreign nation without any accountability. America is struggling with record-setting inflation, debt, a porous border, crime and energy depletion yet progressives in Washington are prioritizing a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine – more than the entire annual budget of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Capitolhunters, a group that helps organize crowd-sourced information on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, published a thread on X about the links between the Heritage Foundation and Orbán.

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The meeting mentioned in the thread was the third annual National Conservatism Conference held in September 2022 in Miami, Florida. Those attending included: right-wing journalists; policy analysts from conservative think tanks like the Claremont Institute and the Heritage Foundation; and conservative Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Jewish leaders. 

Peter Thiel, the German-American billionaire venture capitalist and right-wing mega-donor, delivered the opening keynote speech. Thiel has close ties to Vance, unsuccessful Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Other speakers included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rick Scott of Florida, and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Viktor political adviser Balazs Orban.

Ben Lorber, writing in Religion Dispatches, connected the dots to reveal the elite movement that shares a distaste for liberal democracy and wants to ”build an illiberal nationalist movement in America, one strong enough to outlast the Trump presidency and reshape the American political scene.”

National Conservatism is a movement launched by conservative Israeli academic, Yoram Hazony in 2019. Its priorities include: a rollback of LGBTQ+ rights; a near-total moratorium on immigration; support for Christian nationalism and economic nationalism; opposition to “globalist” supranational institutions; disdain for so-called “woke elites”; and using state power to achieve conservative goals, according to Lorber.

Participants were not necessarily enamored with Trump. Conservative political philosopher Paul Gottfried, who helped coin the term “alt-right” in 2008, told Lorber that he was ready to vote for DeSantis. “He’s a lot better than Trump, because Trump is incoherent; he’s infantile rage; he’s gonna drag down the party. [DeSantis] is more conservative, articulates his positions effectively, and is more effective in dealing with the other side.”

But DeSantis’ campaign has cratered and now Heritage is stuck with Trump, a deeply flawed vessel, to carry out its authoritarian game plan.

The most significant development at the conference came when Roberts, the newly appointed president of the Heritage Foundation, declared his conversion to the cause of National Conservatism. In his convention speech, Hazony called upon conservative intellectuals, politicians, businessmen, and other public figures to stand up and say, “‘That’s it. We’ve had enough. We are going to restore Christian public life in this country, and it’s gonna begin in my state’ … this was a Christian nation historically and according to its laws, and it’s going to be a Christian nation again—it’s going to be a Biblical nation.”

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