Mitt Romney had a strong win last night in Florida.  There’s no way to spin it otherwise, just as there was no way to spin Newt’s South Carolina win otherwise.

But at what cost?

Financially the cost was about $17 million for Romney and his SuperPAC, almost entirely on negative ads.  Of the $15 million in negative ads run by or for Romney, only one was positive,  a radio ad in Spanish run only 15 times.

Last night, Brit Hume described the win appropriately: “He beat Newt Gingrich by bombing him back into the stone age” with negative ads.

Despite Romney’s apparently straight-faced yet completely false assertions that he tried to run a positive campaign and only went negative because Newt outspent him in South Carolina, Romney showed himself to be devoid of the ability to inspire the conservative base.  Tellingly, turnout in Florida was down significantly from 2008; by contrast, in South Carolina turnout was up significantly.

As noted yesterday by William McGurn at The Wall Street Journal, Romney’s campaign toughness is not a toughness of message but of personal attacks:

“Those of us who believed that a primary fight would toughen Mr. Romney up have little to show for it. Far from sharpening his proposals to reach out to a GOP electorate hungry for a candidate with a bold conservative agenda, Mr. Romney has limited his new toughness to increasingly negative attacks on Mr. Gingrich’s character. It’s beginning to make what we all assumed was a weakness look much more like arrogance.”

Romney’s strategy of carpet bombing rather than inspiring may result in the nomination, but at a heavy financial price which will leave him weakened in a general election.  A strategy which depends on outspending rivals several times over in each state is a self-destructive path, as Alex Castellanos noted last night on Twitter:

Mitt Romney has about a week to turn FL into national momentum. or he’s trapped in tactical statebystate wars which will cost $100m.

Romney’s dependency on carpet bombing also is not a winning strategy in the general election where Obama will have more money.  As Mark Levin noted the other day:

… while Romney can swamp his Republican opponents by 3 to 1 or more in every state with his spending advantage, Barack Obama will be raising more and spending more to beat him in the general election, meaning Romney’s financial advantage will be non-existent.

There were other costs to Romney’s victory, including the credibility of the conservative media.  If ever a thumb were pressed hard on the scale, it was in the past two weeks as Drudge turned his banner over to the Romney campaign linking to an endless regurgitation of anti-Newt media pieces planted by the Romney campaign.

We expect the conservative media to be biased against Democrats just as we expect the mainstream media to be biased against Republicans.  What was unexpected and disheartening, at least to those of us who are relatively new to Republican politics, was to find the conservative media biased against conservatives.  There’s no going back.

The other loss was to our history and purpose.

You know we have gone astray as a party when even Michael Reagan had to come out and tell our presumptive nominee and his political and conservative media supporters to stop lying about the Reagan revolution and Newt’s role in it.

We have in Romney someone who was willing to carpet bomb the history of the Reagan revolution and the conservative insurgency of the 1990s, movements he stood against when he ran for office in 1994 and 2002.

Are we any closer to a nominee?  Probably, although anything still could happen.

Are we any closer to defeating Barack Obama?  I think we are farther away than ever, as many Republicans, particularly those who joined in politics in 2009-2010, just don’t care anymore.

Unless something changes soon, apathy will be the legacy of Romney’s carpet bombing.

Update:  Turnout is even worse for Romney when you dig down county by county as George Mason Univ. Prof. Michael McDonald did (h/t @ErickErickson):

In counties where Gingrich did better, Republican turnout was up over 2008. In counties where Romney dominated, turnout was lower.

 

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[Note: The post title was changed shortly after publishing to better reflect the conclusion.]