With the rise and rise of Donald Trump (and his pal Cruz) in some parts of the US, it seems that an amnesia has settled over conservative America about what conservatism means. 

Conservatives prefer the old order, the existing order of things. They want to conserve this, thus the meaning of the word. It implies that the current situation has value, whether that be law and order, economic order, education, healthcare, administration, whatever. Progressive moves to change these things are seen as dangerously experimental. This is not such a silly thing: look before you leap, etc. Boiled down, it’s an avoidance of unnecessary risk, lest it create more problems than it solves. I sometimes think that if the existing order were more secular, more tolerant of diversity and more evidence-based, I might tend towards conservatism myself.

Trump and Cruz, the darlings of the non-establishment right, are dangerously radical. They are not about maintaining an old order, unless that order is some sort of mythic 1950s amalgam that never existed. Trying to turn the clock back 60 years, in a networked age of global trade, greater equality, fluid labor and international competition, is not something you can just push back in a box. It is not conservatism. Bringing back white male dominance, fanning discord, creating barriers and fomenting war, is not conservatism. Setting aside the US Constitution, to do to their enemies what they badly want to do, is not conservatism. Pushing the poor to extremes is not conservatism, lest you wish to hark back to middle ages feudalism.

Meanwhile, the hated Democrats have stolen the middle ground. Obama, with his focus on improving the economy, better international cooperation and sensible changes to a broken healthcare system, made few great risks during his presidency. He was no radical progressive. History might see him as a conservative politician in the true sense of the word. I expect that Hillary Clinton might appeal to conservatives in much the same way. If you are risk averse and you have to select someone to lead your country into the next decade, who are you going to vote for? Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? Seriously?