Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Conservatives descended on Washington D.C. Thursday for an annual gathering replete with ideological red meat, sweeping policy proposals and undertones of presidential campaign jockeying. And 2016 hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz was there to kick off the festivities.

Cruz, a Tea Party favorite and eager thorn in the side of members of both parties, offered a laundry list of conservative plans -- including the complete repeal of Obamacare, the institution of term limits, the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service and the auditing of the Federal Reserve.

He suggested that Republicans have failed to get to the White House in recent elections because they failed to embody those kinds of ideals.

“Of course all of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney,” he joked. “Those are good men, they’re decent men but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”

Cruz, who led the charge that culminated in the government shutdown last year, urged conservatives to ignore “D.C. consultants” who urge moderation.

“There are a lot of D.C. consultants that say there’s a choice for Republicans to make,” he said. “We can either choose to keep our heads down, to not rock the boat, to not stand for anything or we can stand for principle. And they say if you stand for principle, you lose elections.”

Also scheduled to speak later on Thursday: House budget chief Rep. Paul Ryan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

NBC's Katie Wall contributed to this report.