Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama ascendant


THE BATTLE is joined, finally. On Tuesday the dream that Mitt Romney’s heart made years ago took a formal step toward reality. The former Massachusetts governor won the Texas primary, capturing enough of the Lone Star State’s 155 delegates to clinch the 1,144 delegates to become The Republican Nominee for the presidency. The official coronation takes place in August at the convention in Tampa. And while he won’t actually be The Nominee until votes on the convention floor are counted, it’s fair to say this is the done deal Romney’s been waiting for.

“I am honored that Americans across the country have given their support to my candidacy and I am humbled to have won enough delegates to become the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee,” Romney said in a statement.

And with this forgone conclusion in the books, the Obama White House can double down on the process it started several primaries ago in April: defining a candidate who’s doggedly refused to define himself. Just as Romney has weathered his own storms during the primary season, President Obama has also mounted his own comeback in recent months. He faces the real presumptive Republican nominee with a confidence that’s been building since late last year, when things looked bleak for the Obama White House.

Now, Team Obama’s mission is straightforward, if not exactly simple: Hammer home the idea that a President Romney would happily lash the economy of the United States to the roof of his administration and go tearing down the road for four years, destination unknown.

Little by little since last fall, President Obama has taken off the gloves. Through recess appointments, executive orders, the power of the incumbency and the power of pressure as communicated in the public discourse, the word’s gone out: This is the bare-knuckled street-fighter summamabitch we’ve been waiting for.

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We’ve had more than flashes of what some called “the new Obama”: In September, addressing a joint session of Congress (and the nation), the president introduced the American Jobs Act, a $447 billion measure intended to “provide a jolt to the economy that has stalled.” Obama all but called out certain Republican leaders from certain beleaguered districts by name.

Earlier, at a Detroit Labor Council rally on Labor Day. Obama gave the crowd just a taste of what was to come in the joint session address. When he introduced the bill, he said, “we’re gonna see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re gonna see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. Show us what ya got!”

All of this was further buoyed by the takeout of Osama bin Laden, a year ago, and the emotionally galvanizing event of the end of the Iraq war, last December.

And it was punctuated by other indicators of a newfound muscularity of the Obama administration. In January, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a new military budget that cut $487 billion in cuts in planned defense spending over 10 years, and includes reduction of troop strength by 10 to 15 percent as well as a delay in production of the deeply expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. Outlining a new military strategy that puts more emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, Obama said the United States would maintain its "military superiority" with the Pacific Rim recalibration, meant to de-emphasize the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, those facts of American life and national security since Sept. 11, 2001.

Add to that Obama’s undisputed knockout win with the $144 billion extension of the payroll tax-cut debate, in February, and his full-throated support of gay marriage — a politically risky but societally bold position — and you have a president more confident and pugnacious than we’ve been accustomed to seeing, a president less enamored of sang-froid and more taken with the idea of kicking asses and taking names.


That readiness for battle as a game plan from now until November was laid out on Sunday by John Heilemann, writing in New York magazine:

The Team Obama strategy against Romney? “They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition.”

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AND AS Team Obama begins to fully concentrate on the five months and change between now and Election Day, they’ll likely discover the ready availability of a secret weapon they can use against Mitt Romney: none other than Mitt Romney himself.

We saw evidence of that today. On the day of his greatest, broadest electoral triumph — his de facto coronation as the GOP standard-bearer, Romney displayed his capacity for committing unforced errors at the worst possible moment. On a day of great moment and gravity, when the optics mattered like never before, Romney turns up in Las Vegas to attend a fundraiser sponsored by ... Donald Trump.

It almost doesn’t matter what was said there at the Trump International Hotel; it almost doesn’t matter that ex-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich appeared there to lend the meeting something like gravitas. The takeaway, certainly for the media and for others besides, is the juxtaposition of Trump — the tireless publicity enthusiast who used this photo-opportunity to reawaken bogus dogwhistle innuendo about President Obama not being a citizen, the man conservative commentator George Will called a “bloviating ignoramus” — and Romney, the man who would be president, a presumably serious candidate who just pledged some kind of allegiance to the orange blowhard multimillionaire who’s not to be taken seriously in the least.

Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination today, but the man whom Heilemann memorably described as “a hybrid of Gordon Gekko and Thurston Howell III” hit the deck while taking the biggest victory lap of his career. It’s not the first time Romney the runner has stumbled, and it won’t be the last. What’s different now? This isn’t a preliminary heat he’s warming up for, it’s the run for the roses — or more accurately, the Rose Garden. And he’s up against a long-distance sprinter who’s been at the top of the medal stand before.

Game on.

Image credits: President Obama: CBS News. Bin Laden death celebration: via stuff.co.nz. Romney: Fox News. 

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