The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of conserve is "to keep in a safe or sound state". William F Buckley had that in mind when he began promoting political conservatism when he founded National review magazine in 1955. The pillars of conservatism were national security, economic opportunity and prosperity, and social equality.
After he decided what was important, he also decided on the methods by which to achieve these goals.
Economic - Spend as little money as possible on government projects. That means tax the people and businesses as little as possible. Regulate businesses a little as possible. His assumption was that business would flourish and benefit everyone if they were free to do everything they wanted to do, within reason.
Social - Have as few laws as possible. Allow people to do what they want unless it hurts too many other people.
Allow individual people and businesses the freedom to do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt too many other people or businesses. Even then, support those who thrive and give little help to those on the losing end. The thought is, for business, that the winners will create value that will help everyone. For individuals, the extra freedoms that the losers have will compensate for the beatings they get from the winners.
While the goals were noble, there is a basic flaw to his version of conservatism so harmful that it negates its positive aspects. The problem is that optimum points are never defined. Regardless of where things stand today, everything is always "less". Less taxes… Less government… Less trust in foreign countries. Well, less than what? It seems that no matter how much tax is collected and how many laws are enacted , it's always too much. There is little regard to how much we actually need. The optimum points are not defined and justified. No points of stability are defined. In addition, you would think that a core tenet of conservatism would be balancing the budget, yet no such tenet exists. You would think that another core tenet would be that Congress creates the best compromise bills rather than employ all-or-nothing partisan tactics. But that is also neglected. This is a disconnect from reality.
So the goals seem laudable. The tenets seem to make sense, at least superficially. The inherent problem with conservatism is its emphasis on quantity. Few, as little as possible, hands off. However the economy, business, society all work best not with as little control as possible, but with optimum control.
The problem accelerated because Republican politicians began interpreting conservative tenets to suit special political interests. Conservative policies were soon modified to promote prejudices, bigotry, selfishness, and to promote the accumulation of wealth by fewer individuals and corporations, a grossly uneven distribution of wealth. People who have a deep seated distrust and prejudice of foreign countries used fear tactics to alarm citizens and build up the military. All new weapons were purchased regardless of price. Spending on military went wild and stayed there. The military industrial complex linked Congressmen and military corporations so tightly that huge military budgets were approved year after year. This alarmed foreign countries who felt threatened by the U.S. accumulation of military force. There defense was to build nuclear weapons or ally together to protect themselves.
Finally conservative reason gave way to blind adherence to conservative ideology -- beliefs so rigid that they never benefitted from feedback, how well these beliefs worked when they were applied. Conservatism became an end in itself, too inviolable to modify so it worked to fit the times. Society served conservatism rather than vice versa.
The major flaw of conservatism as interpreted to day is that the basic tenets all state that something should be "less". Less taxes, less regulation, less trade and less trust of foreign countries. Conservatism could be used to advantage by changing the emphasis to "more". There should be more intelligent research into budget items when creating the budget. Detail what we are buying. Research how it is working out. Use this information as feedback into the budget process. Instead of mindlessly repeating "lower taxes", explain what the dollar figure should be and why. Correct the things that cause waste. Suggest more efficient ways to accomplish the programs that Congress voted into the budget. Spend some time finding the optimum points and set the goal as doing more to reach those points.
The goals of conservatism won't change, but the way to accomplish them will go from "less" to "more", negative to positive, from failure to success.