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!”
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.