After its general election battering, the Republican party has retreated to lick its wounds and ponder what went wrong – on the leafy grounds of a luxury golf resort in Virginia.

And what better place for today's GOP to hold strategy sessions titled "Successful communication with minorities and women" than on the grounds of a former plantation in the south?

"When the first English foot was placed in Virginia, it was here on these grounds that once served as a central part of the area's plantation life in the 1600s through 1800s," boasts the website of the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, which draws a discrete veil over whatever events in the 1800s may have caused that to end.

But tradition lives on in the name of the resort's Plantation Golf Course and the 374-seat Burwell Plantation Room – where, as luck would have it, the forum on minorities and women was to be held.

Included among the sessions is one that probably sums up the state of mind of many attendees: "What happened and where are we now?" It's a good question, after the bruising battle the Republicans endured over the "fiscal cliff" at the end of last year, with the party in Congress preparing to get back in the ring for the debt ceiling extension tussles at the end of February.

Attempting to answer that question was former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who threw out hints that the Republicans in Congress were prepared to avoid a showdown over the federal debt ceiling, which limits the total that the federal government can borrow.

"We're discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March," said Ryan, describing the intra-party talks going behind closed doors at the resort.

Failing to raise the debt ceiling would have big implications, with the US Treasury unable to issue bonds or repay interest owing, and could even trigger a downgrading of the US's sovereign credit rating.

But Ryan wouldn't go into details, saying a short-term extension was one of a number of options being considered – along with how to deal with the looming budget cuts scheduled for the end of March, having been narrowly put off during the fiscal cliff negotiations.

"Our goal is to make sure our members understand all the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming, in order so that we can make a better informed decision on how to move and how to proceed," Ryan said.

Meanwhile, John Fleming, a member of the House of Representatives from Louisiana, told reporters that immigration was not among the hot topics being discussed so far, and that there had been "zero discussion" of gun control legislation – a strange omission, given President Barack Obama's statement just yesterday.

"We're only talking about what we're doing over the next 120 days," Fleming said, according to the Huffington Post's Sabrina Siddiqui, thus proving that the relaxing resort must be taking minds off the hurly-burly of current events.

No word yet if the GOP attendees have been enjoying the recreational activities on hand – "from educational Segway tours of our natural surroundings to organized geo-caching competitions," according to the resort's publicity material.

Among the motivational speakers invited to address the retreat is Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mt Everest and thus the perfect person to inspire Republicans as they grope their way towards the heights of government. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]