“He ought to be killing Obama, and he’s clearly not doing that,” said 32-year-old R.J. Robinson, one of the thousands of activists attending the annual Values Voters Summit this weekend. “He should be doing better.”

Added Mike Garner, a 27-year-old hawking “Reagan was right” buttons at the meeting: “If Romney loses this election, the party really needs to do some soul-searching.”

Their sentiments were echoed in interviews with more than a dozen GOP activists and social conservative leaders who attended the annual gathering focused on social and cultural issues and sponsored by the Family Research Council. The summit was filled with rhetoric meant to fire up the party’s base voters. Romney needs them to turn out in force at the polls in November and, between now and then, to convince others to do the same through extensive get-out-the-vote grassroots canvassing in swing-voting states. To energize them, dozens of high-profile conservatives — including former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — used their speeches to paint the 2012 race as a transformational moment in the country’s history and insist that the president is turning the nation into a place its founders wouldn’t recognize.