First, let me resist the binary that “you’re either for or against Trump,” at least for purposes of this discussion where we’re evaluating more than just a particular act in the voting booth. I don’t like much of Trump’s word choice, but Trump would not exist without the toxic, uncivil media and political environment we have today, full of double standards against people of a non-leftist point of view. (And yes, I’m operating in a bigger tent than just “conservatives” at this point in our political history.) Yes, this puts us in a “relativist” way of looking at things, which is discomfiting for me as a conservative. But from that perspective, Trump presents a possible way out of the leftist dead end. To square that with a more objective, the-ends-do-not-justify-the-means perspective, I have to assume that Trump’s media tactics can be cleaned up so they are not objectively distasteful and yet still effective. I think they can, but I grant that it’s debatable.
But to be clear: no, I am not saying that lying or being gross is justified because the left does it too. I believe those are not the essence of his media strategy and that strategy, that incredibly effective strategy, could be cleaned up and made defensible and still quite effective.
As for your line of argument based on “responsible” government, we have different priors. My assumption is that the reigning leftism in American government today is destructive and must be stopped. Fairly typically conservative. I also contend the destructive effects are imminent and becoming irreversible. Maybe I’m on the alarmist side, but still basically conservative. I gather from your comments, on the other hand, that you think we have a good long while to go before there is anything to be really alarmed about, even to the point that losing the Supreme Court would not be irreversible. I disagree. That is why I would risk a President Trump: not because I want “to bring down the monarchy,” but rather because I want to save it before it’s too late. A Hail Mary play is radical on the opening drive, but perfectly rational and conservative in the dwindling seconds of the fourth quarter. (For that matter, if I were to insist on my own priors – rather than acknowledge our respective priors are disputed – I could argue that you are trying to “bring down” what’s left of our constitutional republic by supporting Hillary, even if she will “safely” bring it down. For that matter, I do not believe it worthy to talk about the “safe” way to bring our own liberty to an end.)
As for Trump’s policies, I will stipulate that he doesn’t have a core of values. Again, I make no secret that conservatives have a terrible choice in front of them. The way I approach it is this: I have to assume that I have no idea what Trump will do on any given issue, with the exception of those he’s made a big fuss about, like immigration, which he could not fail to carry through without a major blow to his ego, which he would not abide. But conservatives have a mediating force in the Congress, and so were Trump to go full left on a particular issue, conservatives would have about as much chance in thwarting it as if Clinton were in office. And obviously, a 50% chance that Trump will go left on an issue is better odds than Clinton offers.
As for protecting the GOP brand, I am pretty open about being a Republican, but I find less and less about it to defend. I’ve come around to the view that one of the biggest issues facing our country – cyclic government dependency – will never be fixed in the regular course of accounting adjustments (probably by design), and that it must instead be addressed by immigration policy (also likely left unfixed by design). Thus, I see immigration as a sui generis issue, a threshold before any other problem can be meaningfully resolved. Until then, GOP credibility will continue to dissolve with ever more promises that will go unfulfilled because no one lacks the will or ability to stem low-skilled immigration to a country that already can’t take care of its low-skilled citizens. I think Trump has a point here that criticizing his “tone” rings hollow when he’s been willing to grab the third rail and hold on.
You say: “The “preference for the status quo” is the sine qua non of “conservatism.”” That is too facile. No one seriously argues that conservatives cannot criticize the welfare state or the alphabet-soup bureaucracy, which have been status quo for over a generation. Besides, what conservatives mean by “status quo” doesn’t control while we’re on a leftist trajectory. There is no “status quo” on a freeway onramp – and we’ll soon be on the highway to disaster. What I am interested to know is: what is there about the credibility of the GOP as it exists today that is worth such deference as to yield to the speculative concern that Trump would substantially harm it? And what will the GOP’s capital buy after a Clinton tenure when it has bought so little to date? Most people hate both parties, and I’m starting to agree – the GOP too consistently confuses defending markets with defending business, and is often too anemic a defender of life and religious liberty. Are we to believe the GOP could have made its big move and gained major victories if only Trump would get out of its way?
Again, I do not and cannot argue that the best reasons supporting Trump are typically “conservative” ones, except to the extent that one believes, as I do, that we don’t have another quarter to play and our best move left to play is, in any other circumstance, a very poor one. For that matter, the arguments against Trump make conservatism sound like an argument for managed decline.
I remain open to further arguments along these lines, but this one leaves me unmoved, except further disappointed and annoyed at the effort. "Psychologically stable" -- unserious, ad hom. "Toddler-type state of mind" -- same; and while I hope conservatives urge Trump to corral his language, his effective neutralizing of unfair and untruthful arguments is of incalculable value to our politics, the blueprints to the Death Star. Case in point: debate-ending, low-class-surrender name-calling like "bigot." Every conservative who's earned the name is already a bigot.
"Clinton is less risky" -- no mention of SCOTUS except that Clinton "has at least heard of the Constitution" = unserious, ad hom, and that "Republicans should have thought about that before settling on Trump as the man to oppose her in November" = lie down and give up. How rousing.
"Clinton is more conservative on key issues" like "trade" -- what about other issues, which Trump's supporters find more urgent and important, like immigration? Again, unserious. The smart set's stupidity on immigration trumps Trump's stupidity on trade (& most everything else).
"Clinton is a Democrat" is the Hamilton Rule restated, which I find a potentially interesting line of argument, if only someone would follow the argument through: what does rebuilding look like once we've lost SCOTUS for a generation? Conservatives had the last eight years in the wilderness, and the support early on of the Tea Party successes, and their best idea was...a third Bush? The intellectuals don't pay their promissory notes. They need to put up the security of a serious plan for a way forward.
While poorly argued, the arguments all contain valid points. But they are all secondary. The reasons for Trump's support are the very ones ignored in pieces like this: status quo is not desirable (or, for that matter, conservative); GOP doesn't deserve a presumption that it'll make everything all right after a Hillary tenure -- its recent track record instead earns it the burden of proving what fundamental changes will accomplish, and how it means to do so.