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"Demonstrating Kerry's unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he's made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.
Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person's supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who's receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted."
If Obama's not tough enough to defend himself, he's not tough enough to defend the US. If Obama can't hit back, the US will go with the person they think can.
The Romney campaign has demonstrated for months that it was basically inept. George Bush was also inept. Inept is better than weak in American politics. Throughout the campaign, Romney has never looked weak during the campaign even while going from mini-crisis to mini-crisis.
Weakness is political death. And Obama made himself look very weak during the debate.