Anyone who thought that “values voters” were still licking their wounds after the Republican Party received a drubbing at the polls might have found the atmosphere in Washington’s plush Omni Shoreham Hotel rather surprising.
An audience of 2,000 Christian conservatives gathered to listen to their political and media icons, condemn the Obama administation’s alleged socialist agenda and plot the downfall of the Democrats at the 2010 mid-term elections.
The mood was angry and defiant at the annual “Values Voters Summit”, which kicked off with a rousing call to arms from Republican Congressman Mike Pence, from Indiana, a man some see as a future presidential candidate.
He spoke of a “great American awakening”, while another Congressman, Tom Price of Georgia, spoke of lighting “brushfires of freedom”, to roars of excited approval from the floor.
After weeks of vociferous attacks on several fronts, including the Obama healthcare proposals (“Obama-care” to the assembled crowd), American conservatives feel they are back on the front foot. Rightly or wrongly, they scent blood.
But behind the confident bluster, dark fears swirl. One delegate, Sue Phelps, drew comparisons between Barack Obama, Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler - “they were good orators too” - and said the president’s nationality and religion were “unanswered questions”.
From the podium, Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor stoked the audience’s fears with a joke about a man who goes to sleep in America and wakes up, after a year of Obama, to find himself living in Sweden.
To many foreign ears, the thought of waking up in Sweden might seem rather appealing, but to this fiercely patriotic crowd it would not have made much difference if Mr Cantor had substituted Sweden for North Korea.
Vin Weber, a veteran of the “Gingrich revolution”, in which the Republicans wrested control of both houses from the Democrats in 1994, says the party is “tapping into deep anxiety and discontent about the magnitude of change” under the Obama administration, allowing Republicans to “get on their feet rather quickly”.
In a week when a former president, Jimmy Carter, has suggested that most opposition to President Obama stems from racism, Mr Weber is quick to dismiss the charge.
Yes, there’s racism on the right, he admits, but the overwhelming majority of the president’s critics are challenging him “on philosophical grounds”.
Gary Bauer, president of American Values and one of the country’s leading Christian conservatives, is contemptuous, calling the racism charge a “ridiculous attempt to marginalise conservatives”.
With their confident demeanour and “Take Back America in 2010” bumper stickers, the forces of Christian conservatism seem anything but marginalised.
It is certainly true that the boldness of the Obama agenda has rekindled their passion, and Vin Weber believes that if national security and the economy move away from centre stage, then the “values agenda” will once again reassert itself.