Herman Cain and Ron Paul are not conservatives. They are reactionaries. They do not want to preserver the status quo but instead want to return to an earlier state of development. Barack Obama is a conservative.
When Martin Luther labeled the pope the anti-Christ and declared that we are all priests, he took on the status quo. He moved the West forward and away from a world where the pope could dictate what people thought and believed. The people who resisted his Protestant Revolution were conservatives, trying to hold on to the status quo.
Henry VIII followed in Martin Luther's protestant ways, declaring himself the head of the Church of England and breaking ties to the pope in Rome. When his Catholic daughter Mary became queen, she tried to take England back to Catholicism. She wanted to undo the error of her father's Protestant ways. (Which, among other things, caused her father to commit the grievous sin of divorcing her mother.) Mary, trying to rid England of the Church of England, was a reactionary. (Actually, they called her Bloody Mary because she had so many Protestants executed, but Reactionary Mary has a ring to it.)
Resist change - conservative.
Reverse change - reactionary.
By that measure, Ron Paul is a reactionary. I have trouble understanding how the policies he recommends would be much different from what we had before 1913. From 1837 to 1913, for instance, the US had no central bank, no Federal Reserve. Ron Paul would like us to believe that a central bank is the cause of things like recessions but during this period there were plenty of economic problems - including recessions AND depressions that originated in the financial sector. In any case, Ron Paul would, like Queen Mary with the Church of England, correct an error of a previous generation and rid us of the Fed. People like he and Herman Cain would love to rid us of all the ills of the twentieth century - from business regulations put in place to end egregious practices like child labor and rampant pollution to social programs like unemployment insurance and social security. They'd like to return us to the economy we had from about 1800 to 1900. That was - for those of you who skipped those chapters in your history books - an ugly time, even if considerably better than the Dark Ages to which Reactionary Mary would have returned England.
It would be fascinating if we actually had a progressive option to complement this small menu of reactionary and conservative choices.