Months after being clobbered in the 2012 elections, Republicans are still divided over what path the party should take now, with the Tea Party faction trying to force out the "Old Guard" leaders who have been in control for decades, while other conservatives push to broaden the party's appeal.
"I think the next two years are going to be messy because there is a real Tea Party versus establishment fight that is very clearly worsening," Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that concluded Saturday.
The party's internal struggle was evident in the list of speakers invited to CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives, over the weekend. Failed presidential contender Mitt Romney got to speak. So did a trio of rising conservative stars: Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mario Rubio of Florida, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
The conservatives clearly favored the party's young turks, particularly Paul, a libertarian who earlier this month waged a nearly 13-hour filibuster over the nation's use of drones to kill suspected terrorists. Paul's speech wowed conservatives and liberals alike, but it was denounced by the party's old guard, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party's 2008 presidential nominee, who, at age 76, is serving his third decade in the Senate. Few conservatives sided with McCain in that fight.
"We need to get the old dogs out," Paul supporter Terry Walker, 74, of Ocala, Fla., told The Washington Examiner. "I don't think McCain's a good Republican."
Randy Purdy, 27, of Janesville, Ohio, agreed.
"We need to get some new, energized, young people in the party so we can take back the White House and take back the Senate," Purdy said.
While some conservatives are talking about expelling others from the party, others are pushing to expand the GOP's appeal by including moderates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was snubbed by CPAC last week after hugging and praising Obama in the weeks before the election.
"He's more moderate, but that would reach out to more people," said Aris Rotella, a University of Scranton sophomore. "After Obama, they are going to crucify any radical Republican. Christie's support would be overwhelming."
The GOP also has to do more to win over minorities and women, said editor and publisher Crystal Wright.
"We've gotten into this brand of being stodgy and old," Wright said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he welcomed the GOP's struggle over its direction.
"Thank God we have to have that conversation in the party," Priebus said. "We have to figure out how to grow this party, how to be effective on the ground, how to inspire candidates who can transform this country."
But even as conservatives debated the future of the GOP, Sen. Ron Portman, R-Ohio, announced he was abandoning his longtime opposition to gay marriage since his son came out as gay. Portman was a no-show at CPAC, which blocked pro-gay marriage Republicans from speaking at the convention.
"I think right now we are a little confused on where we are headed," said Michael Ferguson, 21, a Danbury, Conn., college student who backs gay marriage. "We need to step back and evaluate where we go form here. It's going to take some time. It's not going to happen overnight."