In the next few weeks, Barack Obama will formally set the tone for his next four years, but early indicators suggest he will be a tougher, less compromising president. This approach could benefit the Democratic Party, but will mean a continuation of national gridlock.
The president won reelection without any real mandate, but he was strengthened, not only because he swept the battleground states, but also because Romney lost "ugly" and damaged the Republican brand. In recent weeks, the “can't we all just get along” approach of the president’s first thousand days has been replaced by a shrewder approach. He hung tough and forced through tax hikes on the wealthy and has told Republicans that he will move aggressively on implementing new gun controls and raising the debt ceiling.
In short, Obama is doing what George W. Bush did — governing as if he had a mandate when he doesn’t. This approach inspires Democrats (I have argued before that they are tired of being played as chumps) and outrages Republicans.
But the Republican positions on most issues are very weak. Their strongest, against spending, is undermined by their nutty willingness to default the government over a procedural debt-ceiling vote. On guns and immigration, their right-wing minority is poised to do further damage to the party's already tattered brand. Republicans may win the battle to block Obama's agenda, and we could have at least two years of political stalemate. But the president may win the war, by forcing Republicans over the political cliff.