Juggling Campaign and Foreign Policy, Biden Sends Complicated Messages


That left Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, in the awkward position of declining to say whether Mr. Orban is a dictator. “I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Biden campaign,” he told reporters at a briefing. “You should direct those questions to the campaign.” He did express “our deep concerns about Hungary’s assault on democratic institutions.”

Heather A. Conley, the president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research group that promotes democracy, noted that Mr. Orban had injected himself into America’s politics, attending the Conservative Political Action Conference and declaring after his Mar-a-Lago visit that it would be “better for Hungary” if Mr. Trump returned to power.

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“Tragically, Hungary has become both a foreign policy and a campaign issue,” she said. Still, she added, calling Mr. Orban a dictator has concrete foreign policy implications. “Should a NATO member, head of state, government be declared a ‘dictator,’ the country would be placed in a special penalty box until the dictatorship is over,” she said, recalling the military junta that took over Greece from 1967 to 1974.

Last week’s presidential cannibal storytelling provoked a backlash of its own. Mr. Biden was talking about his uncle’s death in World War II. “He got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be — there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea,” he said at one stop.

Never mind that the story does not even appear to be true. According to Pentagon records, his uncle, Second Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan, was a passenger on a military plane that crashed in the Pacific off the northern coast of what was then the territory of New Guinea on May 14, 1944, after its engines failed. Mr. Finnegan and two crew members disappeared and were presumed dead, but the report does not indicate that the plane was shot down, much less that anyone encountered cannibals.

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