With the midterm elections over, strategists on the Left and Right are already combing through poll numbers and plotting strategy. For some Republicans, it started at a post-election pow-wow called the "Restoration Weekend," a brainstorming session for the future of the conservative movement.
On the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, inside an opulent five-diamond hotel, a few hundred conservatives, moderates, and some token liberals, converge to set the course of the Republican Party.
At the seventh annual Restoration Weekend, an inside-the-Beltway getaway for political junkies who want to beef up on insider scoop, conservatives are jubilant, celebrating their election victories.
"It's a good time to be an American, to be conservative, because it says to many conservatives who believe what we believe that you're not crazy, you're not wrong. You have been validated!" said Armstrong Williams, conservative commentator and talk show host.
Guests at the Restoration Weekend shell out thousands of dollars to stay at the luxury Breakers Resort here in Palm Beach, Florida. They come to rub shoulders with conservative heavyweights, plot political strategy, and argue about the issues.
"The people who come to the event tend to be among the movers and shakers in conservative affairs," said organizer David Horowitz, a 60's leftist turned conservative. He calls the event the right wing's response to the liberals' Renaissance Weekend, made famous by the Clinton crowd.
Horowitz says the elections are a window of opportunity for Republicans to become the nation's majority party. "Conservatives fool themselves thinking the country is conservative. The country is moderate conservative, that’s true. It’s not Left the way Democratic Party has veered, but it’s not conservative. We need a majority party to carry on the task of restoring strong values and institutions and traditions."
Some conservatives contend the way to reach that majority is to build on recent gains among traditional Democratic constituents.
Shannon Reeves, head of the Oakland NAACP, said, "I think the best opportunity, as quiet as it might be kept, for the Republican Party, is in the African-American community. It's a vote that the Democrats absolutely positively must have to win, but it's a vote that by the same token that's the most disillusioned within the party itself."
Armstrong Williams said, "Where conservatives have failed the black community is in the area of civil rights and race. We’ve failed there for so long, but with this President in the White House, we are finally getting it right."
During the conference's panel discussion, commentators were abuzz with campaign analysis, immigration, tax cut and terrorism policies.
The elite event also showcases conservative luminaries from lawmakers and opinion-makers to TV pundits, even a rare public appearance by the man with the golden microphone. Rush Limbaugh showed up for an Annie Taylor Award, the honor for conservatives who take a licking and keep on ticking.
Limbaugh said, "To be compared to someone who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel and lived... I haven’t done anything like that, I’ll tell you. And I don't look at what we're doing here as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and surviving! I’ve got such a great feeling about what’s happened. This has such a different feel about than 1994."
"I think Rush has had a bigger influence on the future of this country than almost any elected official," Horowitz said. "He does it under daily attack, and until you've been a public figure under constant attack, you don't know quite what it's like."
As part of a theme to honor U.S. troops, another Annie went to medal-of-honor recipient Jack Jacobs, the injured colonel who carried 19 men out of battle while under fire in Vietnam.
With national security a grave concern among many conservatives, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made the case for possible use of force against Iraq.
Describing a grim symbol of a regime that rules by terror, Wolfowitz recalled one instance of what Iraqi citizens have endured. "[They were put in] a hell hole where prisoners were howling and dying of thirst. And the remarkable thing is that in this prison, the oldest prisoners were 12 years old, the youngest were toddlers. Their crime was to be children of political enemies of the Iraqi regime," he said.
Turning toward issues on the home front, NRA President Wayne LaPierre issued a warning to fellow conservatives about the challenges that lie ahead.
"Look, the more we tolerate the forfeiture of our freedom, our privacy becomes a luxury, our freedom becomes suspect, and ultimately our freedoms will be X-rayed, fingerprinted, photographed, strip-searched, and ultimately lost. So this is gonna be a big test for Americans in coming years whether we'll stand up for freedoms in the Bill of Rights," he said.
Support for President Bush was a common thread throughout the weekend. Most here are optimistic that the President’s agenda will coincide with theirs.
American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said, "We don't feel shut out at all. George Bush as President has made everybody a part of the team. Now we don't always agree with the plays he calls, but we know the next one is liable to be one we do like, and we also know we're going to have some input on whatever he does."
William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said, "The people here are leaders and don't defer automatically to whoever's in the White House or Congress, so they have their own ideas about where the conservative movement, the Republican Party, the pro-life, pro-family constituency should go next. And I don't think they're here to listen to pep talks or give pep talks."
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, was mostly just happy about the new tone he sees coming to Washington. "People are excited about making the President's tax cut permanent. They're excited about additional tax reductions. And people are very excited we're finally going to get some conservative judges out of the Senate which the Democrats had been holding up," he said.
As conservatives may be blowing their own horn after winning control of both chambers of Congress along with the White House, they say it is a time for confidence, but not a time to gloat.
Limbaugh said, "We have spent a lifetime illustrating the absurdity of liberalism. We have told people how absurd it is… It's time now to demonstrate that what we believe in actually does work and actually is good for people."