NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The conservative movement is grappling with finding the winning formula to bring more voters in future elections.
Defeated presidential nominee Mitt Romney told the audience at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference that lessons must be learned.
"It's up to us to make sure we learn from our mistakes and my mistakes," he warned. "And that we take advantage of that learning to make sure that we take back the nation, take back the White House, get the Senate, and put in place conservative principles."
No one, however, is quite sure of what those mistakes are. Some, like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz came to the CPAC stage arguing not for a re-tooling of the conservative brand, but rather for a more robust defense of constitutional conservatism.
Former presidential contender Rick Perry took a swipe at Romney and the more moderate crowd.
"You need to nominate conservatives if you're going to win elections," the Texas governor told CBN News. "You can't do it with moderates or even moderate conservatives. Americans want the real thing."
Perry's remarks highlight the 2016 presidential election and why Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul edged Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the CPAC presidential straw poll.
One reason is some conservatives are now starting to view Rubio as a bit more establishment class compared with the libertarian-minded brand of conservativism Paul is preaching.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered," Rand said.
"I think he's going to get the libertarians," CPAC attendee William Temple predicted. "I think he's going to get a lot of Tea Party people. I think he's going to get a lot of conservative people and above all I think he's going to get a lot of young people."
There's no doubt Paul is the hot commodity right now in conservative circles. Just ask New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who weren't invited to speak because of what was considered a less than stellar conservative record in the last year.
It's all part of a larger narrative about just how conservative the GOP needs to be to win elections.
Evangelicals and the Tea Party want the GOP to stay true to conservative principles. Other Republicans, like business mogul Donald Trump, disagree.
"I largely agree with the Tea Party," Trump told CBN News. "I think they have to stay true and I think they got away with it last time, but it just didn't happen that way and that's probably one of the reasons the election results were so bad. You have to stay true to your principles, there's no question about it."
But staying true to principles doesn't guarantee success, as was demonstrated in the last presidential election, where the Obama campaign's ground game was far superior to Romney's.
"I think targeting voters could be better done because we worked with the campaign and we actually did a lot of call nights and a lot of door knocking and the lists that we got were not good," CPAC attendee Kelsey McGaha said.
"I just feel the Republican Party could target people better -- target people who don't vote and reach out to those people," McGaha added.
It's a lot to digest for a conservative movement trying to walk in lockstep with one another.