If conservatives mean what they say, then Ron Paul would be the ideal candidate for them. He is the only candidate in the Republican presidential race that actually means it when he talks about reducing the reach and scope of government.
According to the Nolan Chart, it is expected that conservatives and libertarians will be divided on social issues, but in this campaign social issues are not at the forefront. The most pressing issues of the day are the ongoing wars and the Greater Depression
The war is big in the Republican Party, of course, and that will make Representative Paul stand out. But when asked about that issue at a recent debate he could have answered "I don't think I’m outside the mainstream. Sixty to seventy percent of this country is tired of these wars. The Republican Party lost control of the congress and the presidency because of support of these wars, and only regained the House because of how bad Obamacare is." It would have used his stand on the wars to good effect.
The economic issue is actually the critical issue to examine. As is demonstrated but not commonly known, conservatives are not interested in laissez faire, in spite of their reputation otherwise. From the first predecessor party, the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton, to today under the Republican Party, the one constant has been an economic ideology of government intervention on behalf of large businesses.
President Bush and Senator McCain both supported the bailouts, while Representative Paul opposed them. The bailouts weren't welfare programs for the poor, as is generally favored by the Democrats, they were welfare programs for the rich as has always been favored by Republicans.
This is the real reason why Republicans dislike his position on other issues, such as the foreign wars and the drug wars. Foreign wars mean lush, lucrative government contracts for munitions manufacture. The drug war means even more lush, lucrative government contracts for police enforcement activities. It isn't about winning either war, it is about the same mercantilism that started under Hamilton but carried to a degree even he would have been appalled at.
If Representative Paul were to become president, the practice of the politically connected becoming wealthy at the expense of the taxpayer would be severely curtailed.
In spite of all the “small government” rhetoric, conservatives never meant a single word of it. Representative Paul does mean it. That presents a dilemma to conservatives, similar to the one presented to progressives - he makes them confront what they really believe, and they do not like finding out what it is they really believe. They blame him for being forced to find out. If a ray of light shines on a pigsty, is it the fault of the ray of light that what we see is so bad? The guilty conscience of a conservative causes them to give the say answer of "yes" that the progressives give as well.