No one in the GOP gives a speech like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Clapping his hands and punching the air he strode onto the stage at the RNC, and then he proceeded to wow the crowd. If Ann Romney was empathetic, he was tough. If she vouched for her husband, he vouched for Americans. They were the yin and yang of the first night of the convention.

Ironically for a convention with so many people chattering about “likability”, Christie declared, citing his mother, that it is “better to be respected than loved.” It was a powerful counterpoint to the hang-wringing and media fixation over likability.

Christie turned likability, or as he called it, popularity, into a liability. His was a tough message, repeatedly drawing contrasts with the Democrats. “Our ideas are right for America. Their ideas have failed.”

Citing his own improbable success in a deep blue state he made the case for truth telling. Republicans, he said, will tell the people we “have to fundamentally reduce the size of government.” In his view, President Obama is weak and timid. (“They believe the American people need to be coddled.”) Republicans, he urged, “believe in telling seniors the truth.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is wonky, but Christie is no less enamored with the power of conservative ideas. He told the crowd that Republicans win when the focus is on their ideas, while Democrats win when it isn’t. Through a series of parallel phrases he put Romney-Ryan on the side of families and kids, casting Obama s the prisoner of special interest groups. (“They believe in teachers unions. We believe in teachers.”)

He repeatedly had the crowd on its feet, making a virtue of unpopular, tough-minded politics. (“Real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”)And as he frequently does, he appealed to history, urging Americans to be up to the moment. “Every generation will be judged and so will we.”” And he rejected the Obama scare tactics and victim-mongering. (“We have never been victims of our destiny.”)

Christie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But he was the crowd’s hero tonight, a big, brash fellow unafraid to voice a conservative message and unconcerned with being take as too tough, too forthright and too dismissive of the president.

What would the race have been like had he run for the presidency? Hard to say, although we would have had many great speeches. In any event, he planted the flag in the ground tonight. He’s a force to be reckoned with now and in the future. Romney and Ryan have their work cut out to top Christie. On a scale of 1 to 10, his was an 11.