It’s clear why Trump likes autocrats. But why are American conservatives following him?

It’s not hard, of course, to see why this might appeal to an amoral operator such as Trump, who openly admires the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia. As Trump’s ambassador to Hungary recently put it, in an overly honest interview in the Atlantic, Trump “would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban has, but he doesn’t.”

But how does it appeal to conservative intellectuals? That’s easy: Orban not only presents a much milder, bloodless form of authoritarianism, he also dresses it up in an elaborate costume, offering a fairy tale, a lie about how he defies the European Union (in fact, he is happy to take its money), opposes “elites” (he, his family and his cronies are Hungary’s elite), supports “Christianity” (if Christianity is understood to mean repression and theft) and, of course, fights the Muslim hordes (who don’t exist).

With great fanfare, Orban put a length of razor wire along his country’s border with Serbia a few years ago, to stop Syrian refugees who were trying to get to … Germany. Nobody was trying to get into Hungary then; nobody is trying to get in now. But the fantasy of an ethnically pure state, pushing back against immigration and multiculturalism, continues to appeal to a certain kind of American who wishes their country could do the same. And never mind that the wave of immigration in Europe was finally halted by centrist politicians such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, who persuaded Turkey to take more refugees, and by stepped-up European Union border controls. And, never mind that the amount of hateful rhetoric spouted about refugees in Hungary, or indeed in Italy or France, has risen since the refugee crisis subsided. It bears no relation to the number of refugees actually coming into the country, and never did.