Political parties have only two choices in this world, NRA president and former head of the American Conservative Union, David Keene, told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday: "They grow, or they die."
Keene asked the conservatives in the audience to remember that "Our movement and the Republican party are not the same." The party, Keene said, is simply "the vehicle we've chosen to accomplish our political and policy goals."
And sometimes, Keene said, that vehicle needs a tune-up.
He recalled the new people brought into the Republican fold by 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater and former President Ronald Reagan. At the time, Keene said, the party establishment was nervous that these newcomers would rock the boat.
"They came anyway," Keene said, "and we have to accept the fact that when new people come in, they want a vote."
"Party establishments tend to want voters," he explained, "they just don't want them...participating in decision-making."
He recalled the strength demonstrated by former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., among young people during his bids for the presidency in 2008 and 2012.
"This year," Keene said, Ron Paul's son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, became "a hero....to conservatives across the country" for his 13-hour filibuster objecting to the Obama administration's policy on targeted drone strikes.
In return, Paul was rewarded by an "aging presidential candidate" -- that would be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- who said, according to Keene, "We don't want people like him because he appeals to young people."
McCain, who supports drone strikes, accused Paul of staging a reckless filibuster to appeal to "libertarian kids in their dorm room."
And that won't cut it, said Keene: "If the Republican Party adopts exclusionist parties, it won't win, it won't succeed, and it -- like movements and parties in the past -- will be looking back at its glory days."
"Fortunately," he added, "many, many Republicans and most conservatives recognize this need" for fresh blood.
Keene did not address the ongoing push for stricter gun laws in Washington. The NRA has steadfastly opposed President Obama's proposals to reduce gun violence, which include a ban on military-style assault weapons and a national background check system for gun buyers.