Sometimes, in an effort to distinguish myself from the likes of Sean Hannity, I describe myself as "conservative but not right-wing." It's not a hard and fast distinction, of course, and it's not easy to articulate, but it's being pretty clearly illustrated by reactions to the Trump campaign. It's been a week or so now, so I'm late in commenting on this, but, as you may have heard, National Review published a cover story making the argument against Trump which includes contributions by a number of fairly well-known names on the right, both the religious (Russell Moore, R.R. Reno) and non-religious (libertarian David Boaz). There is an editorial summary of the case, "Against Trump", which is probably all you need to read unless you're extremely interested. But the whole story is online, too: "Conservatives Against Trump".
My favorite political blogger, Neo-neocon, has also had a lot to say about Trump; here's just one post. One reason she's my favorite is that she's very careful about researching everything she writes about, and, not surprisingly, the more she's learned about Trump, the more alarmed she is. (She was alarmed about Obama in 2008, too, and she was right about him.)
I think I'm like a lot of conservatives in that I just can't quite believe this is happening. I can't believe he's gotten this far. I can't believe he'll get the nomination. I can't believe he could win. Most of all, I can't believe that people who consider themselves conservative are supporting him. Whatever he may be, he is not a conservative in any remotely plausible sense of the word. We all know that "conservative" is in many ways inaccurate as a description of American conservatism. But I can't see that it has any application at all to Trump.
Why, then, do so many people on the right support him? There is generally at least some connection between "right-wing" and "conservative". It's a species of populism, yes, but much more a rightist than a leftist sort. It's apparently driven by anger. The conventional, i.e. the liberal, response to this is to sneer at the angry people--they're just racists whose evil grip on society has been loosened, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Where non-white anger is concerned, liberals insist on looking for root causes. To do so in this case doesn't require a lot of digging. As someone put it a while back, in a quotation I haven't been able to find again, the American people are governed by an elite which despises them. The anger tends to focus on immigration, and with some reason, because it is here that the ruling class has shown again and again that it is indifferent to the effects of immigration on working-class and poor Americans. The best analysis I've seen of the syndrome is by William Voegeli at the Claremont Review of Books: "The Reason I'm Anti-Anti-Trump."
Demagoguery flourishes when democracy falters. A disreputable, irresponsible figure like Donald Trump gets a hearing when the reputable, responsible people in charge of things turn out to be self-satisfied and self-deluded. The best way to fortify Trump’s presidential campaign is to insist his followers’ grievances are simply illegitimate, bigoted, and ignorant. The best way to defeat it is to argue that their justified demands for competent, serious governance deserve a statesman, not a showman.
On a deeper level, I think there's something more happening. The American republic is in decline in many ways, including in its character as a republic. I've often thought that monarchy is the most natural form of government, and there's certainly some warrant in history for believing that any form of self-government by the governed is a fragile business. Among other things Trump's candidacy is a personality cult. His supporters don't apparently care that much about what he actually believes; they just think he is a tough guy who will stand up to their enemies. There is certainly no sense that he cares about the constitutional order as such, and this doesn't seem to bother his supporters. He wants power, and they want him to have it, because they think he will exercise it in the way they want. It doesn't take much imagination to see how that could go wrong. You don't even have to be a pessimist.
This is easy for people on the left to see. What is not so easy for them is to see is that much the same could be said of them and President Obama, as with Clinton before him. The left in fact seems more susceptible to adulation of a president or a presidential candidate as a personality than the right--Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama (and arguably Carter), and currently Bernie Sanders, for the former, only Reagan for the latter, as far as I can recall. The difference in personality between Obama and Trump is great, but both they and their followers have in common an impatience with democratic processes: "We can't wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won't act, I will." The linked story is only one of a number of instances in which Obama has said something similar. Never mind that the Constitution prescribes a system in which the legislature makes laws and the executive implements them. That doesn't matter when the progressive cause is being thwarted. It will matter when an anti-progressive autocrat proceeds in similar fashion, but it may already be too late to stop the trend.
Actually I'm still not 100% convinced that Trump is not part of a scheme to elect a Democrat.