US Senator Marco Rubio

All right on the night: There was standing room only for the party's rising star, Cuban-American Marco Rubio, who gave one of his most powerful addresses yet. Photo: AFP

In American politics making speeches targeted directly at your base, with little or no concern for the niceties of centrism, is known as ''throwing out the red meat''.

This week, the Gaylord National Convention Centre, home to this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, was a gushing bloodied abattoir.

CPAC, as the annual Republican talkfest is known, is not designed to sell the party to middle America, but to kick around ideas internally. It is also used by pundits to gauge the mood and direction of the party.

Judging by day one of the conference on Thursday, the party's direction is relentlessly to the right, despite its election losses, and its mood is angry and divided - between the establishment right, the Christian right and the loosely aligned Libertarian right and Tea Party right.

Even before the proceedings began it was widely noted that organisers had declined to invite two of the nation's most popular senior elected Republicans - governors Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey, the only leading Republican who has any appeal to centrist voters. It is thought McDonnell may have scotched his invitation by including a modest tax increase in a recent transport bill, Christie by publicly supporting the President's response to hurricane Sandy.

(Organisers also declined to invite the Republican gay group GOProud, which held a panel discussion in another part of the complex on how to how to make the right more tolerant towards gays and lesbians.)

Instead, prime speaking time was doled out to yesterday's heroes and figures associated with the far right; people like Senator Ted Cruz, who recently, baselessly accused the new Secretary of Defence of taking payola from North Korea, as well as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney.

Even before any of the headline acts had taken to any of the ballroom stages, the red meat was flying over old issues. Texan representative Louie Gohmert told an audience: ''Vietnam was winnable but people in Washington decided we would not win it,'' during a discussion about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Outside, what seemed to be hundreds of young supporters of libertarian Rand Paul, clearly energised by his hugely popular old-style filibuster last week, handed out ''Stand with Rand'' stickers and posters while gathering email addresses to feed his political machine.

In an early session some of the party's establishment figures discussed ''Iran and the Islamist Threat to America and the West''. Senator Lindsey Graham said he would soon introduce a resolution declaring that America would back Israel politically, financially and militarily in any conflict with Iran, even a pre-emptive attack.

He declared only one outcome was tolerable in the American conflict with what he called radical Islam: ''We win, you lose.'' (He was paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, whose name was invoked constantly, serving to make the absence of any reference to the Bush family more obvious.) His co-panelists agreed but appeared a little shocked when the first question from the audience came from a young man who introduced himself as Adam Khan, president of the College Republicans of the University of Nevada. He said he was a Muslim American and was dismayed by the panel's association of terrorism with Islam.

Speaking with Fairfax later he said he came across such language often and expected more of elected officials. Nor did he believe the term ''We win, you lose'' was helpful. ''You can't eradicate an ideology, it's not Nineteen Eighty-Four,'' he said.

Along a nearby row of stalls for media outlets including NRA News, The Tea Party News Network and Tea-vangelical Talk Radio, a woman called Sharyn Bovat was having difficulty handing out cards for her website, voiceofamoderate.com, which she is using to try to attract women to the GOP.

Near where she stood a stall was selling The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. The book explains how the South maintained ''moral high ground'' throughout the war, that the South's leaders expected slavery to die out and that racism was perceived by some to be worse in the north than in the slave states.

Back inside the ballroom it was standing room only for the first major speech, an address by one of the party's rising stars, Marco Rubio. In a performance that was arguably more powerful than either his keynote at the Republican National Convention or his rebuttal of the State of the Union, the senator from Florida reminded the young crowd why he should not be mistaken as a moderate.

''Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,'' he said to a roar of appreciation.

''The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.''

Anticipating his opponents would accuse him of lacking new ideas, he said: ''We don't need a new idea. There is an idea: the idea is called America, and it still works.''

In contradiction to much of the GOP's Washington establishment, the Cuban-American voiced opposition to the creation of ''a pathway to citizenship'' for the nation's 11 million mainly Hispanic undocumented immigrants. He struck a chord with some, who booed when Tea Party Texan Republican Rick Perry called for Latino outreach.

Perry took a swipe at both John McCain and Mitt Romney: ''The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections,'' he said.

''That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.''