Mitt Romney’s victory speech in New Hampshire was the most effective of this campaign. Clearly he aimed to defuse critics who are intent on underplaying his remarkable win. Reminding the crowd that no one other than an incumbent president has ever won both the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, he declared: “Tonight we made history!”

It was both a general election speech and a rebuke to his Republican challengers.

He began by making his case against President Obama:

The middle class has been crushed. Nearly 24 million of our fellow Americans are still out of work, struggling to find work, or have just stopped looking. The median income has dropped 10 percent in four years. Soldiers returning from the front lines are waiting in unemployment lines. Our debt is too high and our opportunities too few.  And this President wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, ‘It could be worse.’ It could be worse? Is that what it means to be an American? It could be worse?

Invoking a campaign catch phrase, he told the cheering crowd: “The President has run out of ideas. Now, he’s running out of excuses.”

Then he went on to delineate the differences he has with the president, with a spirited defense of a robust approach to national security: “He doesn’t see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it. He chastises friends like Israel; I’ll stand with our friends.”

In the last few days, under attack by rivals who bizarrely embraced an Occupy Wall Street-like attack on his Bain experience, Romney may have found his voice and some passion. Looking fired up, he shouted to the crowd in Manchester:

President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success. In these difficult times, we cannot abandon the core values that define us as unique -- We are One Nation, Under God. Make no mistake, in this campaign, I will offer the American ideals of economic freedom a clear and unapologetic defense.

Even those on the right who are not enamored of Romney as the nominee will be compelled, I strongly suspect, to say, “Darn right.”

Thanks in part to Gingrich’s, Rick Perry’s and Jon Huntsman’s foolish attacks, Romney managed to lay claim to be the standard-bearer of not just his party but of the conservative movement. He’s with the Republicans who don’t want to apologize for their faith in the free market. That’s the right place to be in a GOP primary.

Tonight Romney was more relaxed and emotional than he was in his Iowa speech. He managed to use the primetime spot productively. Now he has the momentum. And he finally may have found a way to connect with conservatives. That is far more important than the few delegates he picked up tonight.