DENVER — The maxim that emerged from the weekend’s Western Conservative Summit went something like this: If you can’t say something nice about Donald Trump, say something mean about Hillary Clinton.
Speaker after speaker at the three-day gathering avoided the subject of Mr. Trump while unloading on Mrs. Clinton, a compromise apparently necessitated by reservations about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s commitment to conservative values.
Take Sen. Tom Cotton, who never used the T-word even though the Arkansas Republican is widely viewed as a possible vice presidential contender. Mrs. Clinton was a different story.
“What a remarkable presidential year it’s been. I mean, truly remarkable,” said Mr. Cotton. “The Democrats had a choice between two socialists, and they chose the one under FBI investigation.”
The approach offered a window into how conservatives may handle themselves in three weeks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland: by resigning themselves to turning out for Mr. Trump in order to defeat Mrs. Clinton.
In his first campaign appearance in Colorado, Mr. Trump made inroads while revealing that he still has work to do. He burned bridges in April by blasting the Colorado Republican caucus system as “rigged” after his loss to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Mr. Trump received a standing ovation for his Friday speech but drew only about 2,000 to the Colorado Convention Center ballroom, which seats 3,100.
Still, there were signs that the thaw is well underway. No less a Trump critic than conservative pundit Ben Shapiro — who quit the Breitbart News team over its closeness to the Trump campaign — gave his blessing Saturday to those who plan to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee. In fact, Mr. Shapiro, editor of DailyWire.com, said he may do so himself.
“There are some conservatives who say that we should vote for Trump to stop Hillary. By the way, I have total sympathy for this position. I really do,” said Mr. Shapiro. “I absolutely respect and understand the position of those conservatives who say they have to stop Hillary, although personally I think it’s going to take Dorothy with a bucket of water to do that.”
In the next breath, however, he called Mr. Trump “a scam artist, a bully and a coward,” and urged conservatives to hold fast to their principles even as they hold their noses and pull the lever for the presumptive Republican nominee.
“I think the first thing we need to do as conservatives is recognize a basic truth: Conservatives have already lost this election. We now have a couple of bad choices in front of us, some really bad choices in front of us,” Mr. Shapiro said during his Saturday night address. “One may be much worse than the other, by the way. But conservatism already lost.”
Another prominent Trump foe, the Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, didn’t even mention Mr. Trump. In his Sunday morning talk, he focused on religion.
“I do politics for a living and speak five days a week about politics, so I appreciate being asked to come out here and not talk politics today,” said Mr. Erickson, who is also a Christian seminary student.
Former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska discussed the Republican Party’s principles and values while keeping their previously expressed concerns about Mr. Trump to themselves.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an unabashed Trump supporter who called out #NeverTrump Republicans on Friday by declaring, “You’re either with us or against us.”
“You know who’s a threat?” asked Mrs. Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate. “Those GOP-ers who insist that they’ll never vote for their party’s choice this time. They call themselves never-hashtag whatever. I just call them Republicans Against Trump, or RAT for short.”
Darryl Glenn, the Colorado Republican Senate nominee, came to Mr. Trump’s defense Saturday after seeing protesters outside the venue display posters calling the real estate mogul a “racist” and depicting him with a noose around his neck.
“What would happen if Ben Carson was our nominee? Are [protesters] going to put a poster up there with a noose around his neck?” asked Mr. Glenn, who is black.
Mr. Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner, said, “I’m here to say that while I might not agree with everything that Donald Trump says, I proudly stand with Donald Trump.”
Colorado Republican Party Vice Chairman Derrick Wilburn predicted that ultimately conservatives will rally behind Mr. Trump, even if they have to view it as a vote against the Democrat and not necessarily for the Republican.
As Mr. Wilburn put it, “People are recognizing the dire consequences of the alternative.”