In this quest there is only one thing for certain: the answer is uncertain.
When Rick Santorum dropped out of the 2012 Presidential race, Newt Gingrich seized upon the opportunity to assert that he was the only "true conservative remaining." A bold assertion carrying with it the assumption that Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and even Barack Obama are the opposite of conservative; which, if you listen to most news stations, is liberal, by definition. However, "definition" is a funny thing--it's not necessarily important the first word you read, but all the words together, thereby giving the reader a full scope of to the full definition.
So, by definition, or rather by antonym, liberal and progressive aren't the only synonyms of the opposite to "conservative." The words: adventurous, imaginative, imprudent, unique and compromising all follow suit and certainly expand one's view and understanding of what it means to be the opposite of conservative. The two words, after all, are certainly imagistic, and connotative.
Conservative, by definition, is one who preserves the status quo, is unyielding and/or unwavering, is socially and morally steadfast and is certainly not one who is "liberal." The word conjures images of great leaders who keep their countries sound and safe, and one who doesn't take risks. However, by extension, wouldn't someone so "conservative" also be someone afraid or unwilling to take chances or to even attempt something new? (i.e. "preserves the status quo.) Isn't it also someone who is provincial? (i.e. unwavering, steadfast, etc.) The list goes on, with very few "positive" connotations of the words normally associated with conservatism. It would seem, in essence, that being a conservative means being lifeless, selfish, and, above all else, callous towards others and others' needs.
Take "imprudent" for example. Is every "liberal" someone who makes foolish decisions? Is every "liberal" someone who is insouciant or lackadaisical? Is every "liberal" a failure of the positive ideals of conservatism? Certainly not. Is it fair to say then, that by definition, "liberal" does not properly convey the opposite of "conservative." This blogger suggests yes. That unless we fully appreciate and acknowledge the entirety of a definition we cannot simply pick and choose the parts that we want to gravitate toward, and assume, through metonymy, that the parts we select can them correctly define and stand for the whole.
My point here is this: is it fair to pigeonhole any candidate into a particular definition when, like them, the entire definition is not reflective or the entire person? No. It cannot even be self-inflicted, because by doing so would be to properly mislead the American people and it would also lend itself to connect many negative connotations with the self-brander.
Conservatism is definable only in that is cannot fully encompass any single person and no single person can utilize its definition for their benefit or for another's hindrance. HOWEVER, Newt, by contrast did something inexplicably "right." He defined himself the best he could with a term that cannot properly define him as a whole, but which defines him closer than any of the other candidates. BIGGER HOWEVER, the question then becomes, is the true definition of one who is "conservative" a tag that someone wants stapled to their forehead? Is it something "good" or "bad," and can it even be defined or decided within those terms?
No election will decide these things for us, and no individual will encompass all these traits or either definition. In this uncertain world, there is only one thing for certain: there is only "fact" and "fiction," and then there is a world in between in which many dwell and define themselves, a place where many set their camps and row their boats, a place that no one should ever mistake for either the shores of "fact" or fiction."