I guess the answer to that question begins with another question – how do we define a conservative?
In the years between Reagan and Trump (accelerated by the death of William F. Buckley’s death in 2008), we had conservatism defined for us by people who were not acting (often behind the scenes) in the manner of a conservative. Conservatives had a bite of the deep state apple during and after the Gingrich Revolution in 1994 and instead of rejecting the deep state apple, decided as long as they called themselves “conservatives”, they might as well get the full lunch.
Anyone who thinks there is no such thing as a free lunch has never been in a federal government “cafeteria” of taxpayer-funded gourmet delights.
An almost eventuality in human nature is that once you convince yourself of who you are, you then start creating alibis for acts you commit that are not in agreement with your publicly stated principles but get you what you want and desire.
You know of whom I speak – pretty much every member of the “conservative” intelligentsia (anyone participating in a cuck-cruise) except Rush Limbaugh (I’m not counting libertarians – who, due to some shared beliefs, have always appeared to me to be resting right on the border between right and left. I count the establishment GOP as part of this scam as well – those candidates who run as conservatives only to govern as moderates or progressives.
Conservatism is hard.
It is because you often have to go against your own short term interests in service to the right long term solution.
Progressivism is easy because it has no such constraints of principle.
Where conservatism is analogous to getting signing a contract where payment is due on completion, progressivism is like having a credit card with an unlimited balance, the monthly charges of which someone else pays.
Trump is no conservative of any flavor – but if his first year is any indication, his instincts tend to drive him toward generally conservative actions. He may yet “grow in office” – as the progressive left terms acquiescence to their agenda (it’s actually the opposite of growth, progressivism is a regressive, devolved state).
I think the debate over is he/he isn’t is moot. The turn in the economy after we were told the anemic Obama years were the “new normal”, the tax cuts that were “crumbs”, and the small successes in foreign policy is an example of why it is better to have someone who isn’t “conservative” yet acts with conservative principles, rather than someone who claims to be a conservative but doesn’t govern in that manner.