I think I first really understood this reading this column by Ross Douthat, in which he says that when he warns the "Trump curious" of the dangers of a Trump presidency:
[T]hey tend to raise an eyebrow and say, compared to what?
Compared to George W. Bush, who led us into a bloody quagmire in the Middle East and presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Compared to Barack Obama, who’s basically stood by and watched while that same Middle East has gone up in flames, plus Russia’s near-abroad and oh, maybe Europe too?In other words, many people think that our present leadership has botched things so badly that any alternative has to be a better one. But, seriously, consider what they consider to be so bad. Bush fought a ground war in the Middle East and saw it go badly. Obama refrained from fighting a ground war in the Middle East (although he has made heavy use of drones) and that didn't go so well either. I don't have the faintest idea how Donald Trump will handle the Middle East as President, but I am reasonable confident that either he will send in ground troops or he won't. Sending in ground troops or not sending in ground troops appear to be our only options. The fact that neither has gone very well is probably a sign that there are no good options, and that the President has less power to control the Middle East than many might like to think.
Presumably it does not worry the "Trump curious" that Trump doesn't have a clue about the important issues facing this country. The insiders and experts have botched things so badly, they may assume, that an outsider is just what we need and that actually knowing what you are doing should be treated as suspect. Let me try offering a point of comparison. Let us say your town has a hospital which is badly managed. Everyone agrees that it is egregiously mismanaged, and that the management is corrupt and is probably siphoning off funds for their own use. New blood is needed to clean up the mess. But does the call for new blood does logically imply that anyone with any experience in hospital administration is hopelessly tainted and that we should bring in someone who has never managed a hospital in his life and doesn't know the first thing about hospital management and, in fact, touts his total lack of experience as virtue? Not in any hospital I would want to use! And even if you decide that you want to bring in someone untainted by any experience managing hospitals -- well, an seasoned manager from some other field is one thing; Donald Trump is quite another!
The same, I should add, goes for anyone who thinks our current system is so hopelessly corrupt that any outsider will necessarily be an improvement. Look, I agree our system is corrupt. I agree that we have degenerated into a cozy little oligarchy in which the wishes of the 1% always prevail, and in which the 1% are not particularly enlightened or competent. All this is bad. But I still prefer it to Donald Trump. There is ample evidence that he has run his business empire in a thoroughly corrupt fashion. And he appears to see the presidency as little more that a private fief that he will use to bring libel and anti-trust actions against anyone in the press who criticizes him. Argue if you want that Trump is too rich to buy. The corruption I fear from him is less the corruption of wealth, but the corruption of ego. I see no reason to prefer one over the other. But there is another difference that does matter. Our ruling class, like ruling classes everywhere, tends to confuse its own privilege with the public good. But I still prefer that to Trump who seems to have no real concept of the public good, to regard anything and everything as simply a vehicle for his own personal aggrandizement.
As for management, I don't think that anyone truly believes that our main problems are incompetent management in Washington. Still, there are people who believe that government is innately inept, and we should bring in a business leader who will be inherently a better manager. However, Trump is not all that administratively competent, either.
Douthat quotes two tweets that he thinks sum up well the attitude of the Trump curious, "I think I finally get it: all these people freaking out about Trump are in denial about the character & competence of all other politicians," and "There’s something pollyannaish about people who think it would be unprecedented to have a spiteful, vindictive monster in the White House." But I can only agree with Douthat -- there is bad, and then there is BAD!!!! Trump in the White House means escaping the frying pan by jumping into the fire.
Finally, I recall a comparison in the comments section of a blog by a Trump-curious poster. He compared our position to a car careening down the highway and seeing a dead elephant lying in the middle. You have no choice but to swerve. On one side, there is a sheer drop-off cliff. On the other is a ditch that is rough and uneven, full of brush and what looks like raw sewage. It isn't a great choice, but given the options it is a total no-brainer. I assume he intends the ditch to represent Trump (not great) and the sheer cliff to represent conventional politicians (disastrous). But speaking for me, I am more inclined to see conventional politicians as the ditch and Trump as the sheer cliff.
But actually, I can find a better analogy. A dead elephant is lying in the highway. You have to swerve one way or the other. On one side is ditch that is rough and uneven, full of brush and what looks like raw sewage. On the other side is a fog so dense you have no idea what is there. The owners of both sides are urging you to swerve onto their land. (Um, why? I have no idea, but surely we can invent something). The owner of the ditch isn't exactly appealing, but urges you not to take a chance on the impenetrable fog. You ask the owner of the fog side what is over there. He says it is an amusement park, the best amusement park you ever saw, you just won't believe what a good amusement park it is and all the fun and games you can have if you swerve that way. You point out that swerving blindly into an amusement park is not a good idea because you might hit something or someone. He assures you that it is surrounded by a parking lot, a YUUUGE parking lot, smooth as you can imagine, and he needs such a yuge parking lot to accommodate all the people who go to his really great amusement park. You express doubt about swerving into the parking lot. What if you run into parked cars? He tells you the parking lot is empty now because the amusement park is closed. Isn't it obvious that the amusement park closed, you aren't seeing any lights or hearing any sounds from it and wouldn't you expect to if it were open? You agree there is no evidence of an amusement park over there, but ask why there aren't at least security lights on. He then admits that the amusement park hasn't actually been built yet, but the ground has been smoothed to put it in, and it us unbelievably smooth, you just wouldn't believe how smooth the ground is, nothing you could possibly run into or that would throw you off-balance. What about running into earth-moving equipment, you ask. Don't worry about the equipment, he says, it has all been taken away.
By this time, you are reasonably confident that the owner of the fog-bound land doesn't know any more than you do what is really over there. Swerving in that direction is a YUUUGE gamble. It might be a sheer cliff. It might be a steel-reinforced concrete wall. Or it might be a giant, empty parking lot with plenty of room to stop, or a smoothed-off ground. Most likely it is similar to what is on the other side, rough ground with some brush and irregularities. But even if you could be 100% sure that was what was on the other side, your choice would be between navigating a rough ditch full of brush and sewage that you could at least see to navigate and navigating rough ground blindly without seeing it at all. And that alone is an excellent reason not to swerve off into the fog.