It was fascinating to read the conclusions of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe’s analysis of the recent Hungarian parliamentary elections. It almost seemed like they were doing an analysis of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, especially considering the recent disclosures surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Applying the standards of the OSCE to both elections, you would reach similar conclusions that both were “undermined by absence of level playing field.”
So why is so much of the mainstream media in the U.S. willing to condemn Hungary and its leader Victor Orban, raising many of the same issues highlighted by former President Donald Trump as their case, while dismissing Mr. Trump’s concerns?
Mr. Orban is known for promoting Christianity, borders, families and nationalism. Many in the left political commentariat and mainstream media consider faith and these ideas passe, however, so it’s easy to understand their hypocrisy.
• The process was marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging that blurred the line between state and party, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding.
• Biased and unbalanced news coverage permeated the public and many private media outlets, mostly to the benefit of the ruling party.
• The transparency and accountability of campaign finance were adversely affected by the lack of disclosure requirements and extensive, unregulated spending through third parties.
• While political parties and civil society expressed confidence in the accuracy of the voter register, recent legislation weakened important safeguards.
The head of the OSCE Hungarian observer team Kari Henriksen stated, “For voters to be able to make an informed choice, it is fundamental that contestants have equal access to the media and run informative campaigns rather than focus on polarizing messaging and personal attacks.”
Using the same standards, it’s easy to postulate what this same group of people would have concluded if they had been invited in to monitor the 2020 U.S. elections. Let’s sort through the list.
It probably can go without further explanation that the presidential campaign focused on polarizing messaging and personal attacks.
The U.S. elections also saw clear media bias, even more so when considering decisions made by social media companies. At least 119 newspapers endorsed then-candidate Joe Biden while only six endorsed Mr. Trump. A study published by Princeton found that “Twitter’s relatively liberal content may have persuaded voters with moderate views to vote against Donald Trump.” In the case of Hunter Biden’s now-notorious laptop, just two weeks before the election the media called into question the credibility of the laptop, and Twitter and Facebook banned discussion of it or links to the now confirmed original news report.
At the macro level, spending on U.S. federal campaigns swelled to over $14 billion in 2020. With a hodgepodge of candidate spending, political parties, political action committees, super PACs and outside independent expenditures, it is hard to imagine any foreign observers would understand U.S. campaign funding. Add in estimated spending by nonprofits funded by individuals like Mark Zuckerberg ($350 million) provided directly to state and local governments, and U.S. election funding clearly could be described as opaque.
In response to COVID-19, multiple states in the U.S. altered various parts of their election laws, including absentee voting eligibility, mailing of applications for absentee ballots, deadlines for mailing and receiving absentee ballots, drop boxes, accepting fax or emailed ballots, ballot curing provisions, and more. Efforts are afoot, mostly led by Democrats, to make these changes permanent.
While it’s difficult to find charges that government and media amplified messages to reelect Mr. Trump, there is ample evidence that former government officials worked hard to influence voters and support the Biden campaign. The most recently exposed example is the letter signed by 51 former intelligence officials who dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story as having all the hallmarks of a Russian influence campaign.
One might also argue that the discredited Steele dossier and the January 2017 briefing of President-elect Trump on Russian interference in the 2016 election were planned to influence the coverage of Mr. Trump and lay the groundwork for a budding influence operation by government officials for the 2020 election.
So going back to how the OSCE characterized the recent Hungarian elections, “The process was marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging that blurred the line between state and party, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding,” it is easy to see the parallels to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Based on the similarities, there is a compelling case to be made that there were significant issues in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and the OSCE would have concluded the U.S. election results were undermined as a result.
• Peter Hoekstra was U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as chair and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently chair of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors.
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