This is from Robert Paxton’s book The Anatomy of Fascism:
No dictator rules by himself. He must obtain the cooperation, or at least the acquiescence, of the decisive agencies of rule—the military, the police, the judiciary, senior civil servants—and of powerful social and economic forces. In the special case of fascism, having depended upon conservative elites to open the gates to him, the new leaders could not shunt them casually aside. Some degree, at least, of obligatory power sharing with the preexisting conservative establishment made fascist dictatorships fundamentally different in their origins, development, and practice from that of Stalin.
Consequently we have never known an ideologically pure fascist regime. Indeed, the thing hardly seems possible. Each generation of scholars of fascism has noted that the regimes rested upon some kind of pact or alliance between the fascist party and powerful conservative forces. In the early 1940s the social democratic refugee Franz Neumann argued in his classic Behemoth that a “cartel” of party, industry, army, and bureaucracy ruled Nazi Germany, held together only by “profit, power, prestige, and especially fear.”
At the end of the 1960s, the moderate liberal Karl Dietrich Bracher found that “National Socialism came into being and into power under conditions that permitted an alliance between conservative authoritarian and technicistic, nationalistic, and revolutionary-dictatorial forces.” Martin Broszat referred to the conservatives and nationalists in Hitler’s cabinet as his “coalition partners.” In the late 1970s, Hans Mommsen described the National Socialist “governing system” as an “alliance” between “ascending fascist elites and members of traditional leadership groups” “interlocked . . . despite differences” in a common project to set aside parliamentary government, reestablish strong government, and crush “Marxism.”
Paxton argues that even in the extreme case of Nazism, fascist regimes can’t come to power or hold it successfully without entering into an often uneasy and conflictual alliance with traditional conservative elites. This can make the line between conservative authoritarianism and fascism quite fuzzy. He offers Spain under Franco as an example: Early on, Franco’s regime seemed quite fascistic, but, Paxton argues, it pretty quickly evolved/devolved into a classic conservative authoritarian regime, so that by the 1960s it had essentially no remaining hallmarks of a fascist state, even granting that all fascist regimes, with the possible exception of Nazi Germany after the total war mobilization that took hold around 1941, remain in some sort of working alliance with the traditional holders of power in a conservative authoritarian society.
Of course the question this raises is the extent to which Trumpism is a fascist movement that America’s conservative authoritarians continue to manage/co-opt. The difficulty here, I think, is that in a society that has moved far enough away from traditional conservatism, traditional conservatism itself becomes a form of revolutionary reaction, that aims not to preserve the status quo, but to radically upend it.
So for example in the USA in 2022, the drive to outlaw abortion in all or almost all circumstances, to allow states to criminalize inter-racial marriage, the purchase of contraceptives, consensual sex between same-gender people, etc. — all positions that are wildly unpopular with the public as a whole — represents a kind of radically reactionary anti-democratic ideology that isn’t “conservative” in anything like the original political meaning of that term, which again meant a strongly status quo regarding position.
Instead, “conservatism” in American politics has come to mean stuff like this, from Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule:
This is no more “conservative” in the traditional sense of the word than equally absurd rantings from Marxists about how heightening the contradictions is going to bring about a global dictatorship of the proletariat. (The big difference here is that the three remaining Marxists in America aren’t going to be publishing long features in the Atlantic about how to bring about their delusional utopia).
All of which is to say that, under current conditions, the lines between conservative authoritarianism and straight up fascism, which were never all that clear to begin with, are getting blurrier all the time. Rather than a classic fascist cult of personality under Trump, we may be heading toward the kind of managed democracy/competitive authoritarianism that we see in places like Orban’s Hungary. I more than suspect that traditional conservative elites, to the extent that phrase hasn’t been rendered an oxymoron by the ongoing wholesale radicalization of the right in this country, would much prefer the latter to the former, and are even now working furiously to bring it about.