Des Moines, Iowa (CNN)Gosh darnit, Ted Cruz was right.
Standing before a conservative audience at the first annual Iowa Freedom Summit, in an auditorium usually reserved for the Des Moines ballet, the firebrand Senator from Texas distilled the state's prized leadoff role in the presidential nominating process down to its essence.
"In a Republican primary, every candidate's going to come in front of you and say I'm the most conservative candidate to ever live," he said. "'Gosh-darnit-who-diddly, I'm conservative!' Well, talk is cheap."
Cruz did his thing, stroking the id of Iowa's right-leaning Republican electorate with a burst of conservative bromides, trying to prove that he's more than just talk, a high bar for a lawyer-turned-senator best known for a 21-hour pseudo-filibuster just before the 2013 government shutdown. But judging by the waves of applause, it worked.
Depending on how elastic your definition of "candidate" is, there were anywhere between eight and 12 potential presidential contenders who came here to perform the same kind of conservative ego-stroking as Cruz. Familiar attacks against Obamacare and "amnesty for illegals" and Hillary Clinton erupted in speech after speech from a cast of characters that included celebrities like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, and people actually running for president, like Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
Like many of these political gatherings, the event was organized around a cascade of speeches from White House hopefuls — we heard 10 hours of them! And as is the case with many of these political gatherings, there was no actual news to be had, just storylines that needed to be fed.
Where was Jeb Bush? Is Mike Huckabee really running or just selling books? Is Scott Walker the second coming of Tim Pawlenty? Is Chris Christie, who has styled himself as Mr. Electability, really this tight with Steve King, the polarizing immigration hardliner who hosted the event? What is Sarah Palin talking about? Can we get dinner reservations at Centro?
These were questions the hundred or so journalists in attendance, shoehorned into a balcony space above the stage, answered with an avalanche of links, tweets and live shots. The Freedom Summit offered a feeding frenzy of quotes, color and interviews for the press.
But it was, first and foremost, a Republican pageant show. Reporters dubbed it the starting gun of the 2016 Republican presidential race. They were right. But it's only the first of many similar events to come in 2015 — in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, in Washington and elsewhere.
Wherever influential Republicans in key states choose to gather and air their grievances about Obama's America, ambitious governors and Senators and pretenders to the throne will come running to kiss their ring. The quadrennial ritual has begun anew. And so has season 2 of Hambycast.
Welcome to the party, America.