A female cardinal would be the worst thing, as it allows neo-cats a perfect defense of the man. Cardinals don't have to be clergy, so in theory, a woman could be a cardinal. They'll simply point this out and claim that there's nothing wrong with appointing a woman cardinal.
I think if someone they saw as, "otherwise conservative", did this you would be correct.
If someone they see as an out and out modernist does it they won't necessarily take that same line. How many conservatives have you spoken to recently? Are you conducting polls to gauge what they think of Francis's statements?
Everyone has a point where they stop grasping at straws. Even Jayne K, given enough pressure, would break and probably become some sort of third order rad Trad extremist.
The fence sitters when they jump off the fence often become the Tradicals because they want to flog themselves for being blind to things for so long.
Humans are funny like that.
I have listened to "conservative" Catholics and, frankly, they will not object if the man they consider to be pope creates female cardinals. In fact, I have read "conservative" Catholics, even ones who "prefer" the traditional Mass, say that the pope's power to bind and loose would even allow him to ordain women as priests and bishops. To them, "Modernism" is a term out of the past that may describe certain historical issues but has no real relevance today.
(I remember asking a "traditionally minded" Novus Ordo priest who had his "celebret" to say the traditional Mass, refused to give Communion in the hand, and was very orthodox in most of what he said, what value the anti-Modernist encyclicals of Pope St. Pius X and others were if they could not be applied to the people like Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger? He told me, in all seriousness, that those documents were written to address very specific issues that were prevalent in their day but really don't apply today. This was when I began to lose faith and trust in the "conservative" Catholic apologists. I was truly trying to understand how to reconcile traditional teachings with what was being fed to us by the hierarchy, and the only response I've ever been able to get was that, somehow, the plain talk of the great popes of the past who seemed to be describing our current situation perfectly just didn't apply because...well, just because!)
Remember that every time most "conservative" Catholics draws a line in the sand and are convinced the pope would never agree to such and such (e.g., all-English Masses, girl altar boys, Communion in the hand, ordinary use of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the acceptability of homosexuality, etc., etc., etc.) when the line is crossed, they almost all simply accept the change as a fait accompli
and move on to the next line in the sand.
The question is not what "conservative" Catholics would do, but what traditional Catholics who still think Bergoglio is the pope will do. Too many of them are so invested in anti-sedevacantism right now that it is really hard to say. Suffice it to say that I am not optimistic.
P.S. I, too, note that Bergoglio himself has not actually used these words and that it is apparent that these ideas are being leaked to a sympathetic press as trial balloons to gauge the reactions of the public and the bishops. This "papacy" is less than a year old and we're already seeing a lot of crazy things being said outright as well as being floated about. I don't think that what many people call crazy today will be the norm in one or two years.