Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

On Monday President Trump will welcome to the White House Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has generally been shunned and censured by Western politicians and diplomats for his illiberal practices.

Why it matters: At a time when mainstream governments across Europe are doing their best to contain the far right, Trump’s outreach to Orbán will be seen as an effort to bolster populists, weaken Europe’s strained political center and undermine the EU.

Background: Orbán was an early proponent of the right-wing populism that has been surging across Europe — “illiberal democracy,” as he brands it.

  • Since taking office in 2010, he has centralized power, curbed civil liberties, asserted control over much of the media, and compromised the independence of Hungary’s judiciary.
  • A self-proclaimed nationalist, Orbán is skeptical of European integration and staunchly opposes immigration into the EU, warning that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to Christian civilization.

Between the lines: Orbán's visit comes just 2 weeks before elections to the European Parliament, which will be a key test of the political strength of populists across the EU.

  • Orbán's Fidesz party is in the midst of a breakup with the European People’s Party, the main center-right bloc in the European Parliament. It's possible he could now form an alliance with the hard-right grouping that includes France's National Front (now called the National Rally), Italy's Northern League and Germany's Alternatives for Germany.
  • Orbán may also be making a tactical move ahead of the European Parliament elections to see if he can situate Fidesz as king-maker in a governing coalition. His visit to the White House may well strengthen his hand — and give a boost to populists elsewhere.

The impact: Orbán's invitation to the White House makes clear that the Trump administration is letting him out of the penalty box. The move appears to be part of the administration’s strategy to strengthen ties with like-minded populist governments in Europe, including those in Italy and Poland.

  • Along with Trump’s support for Brexit, dismissive attitude toward NATO and tariffs on European imports, Orbán's visit will further damage transatlantic relations already at a post–WWII low point.

Charles Kupchan is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.