Tina Brown: Barack Obama Prepares to Fight the GOP

Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images (Obama); Emmanuel Dunand / AFP-Getty Images (Romeny); Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images (Gingrich)

Barack Obama must be relieved to see the Republican posse that was galloping after him suddenly turn on itself in ways that elevate his own stature by the minute. Who’d have believed that preverbal Rick Perry could come up with a coinage as crackerjack as “vulture capitalist” to characterize Mitt Romney’s business career? Who’d have imagined that a Newt Gingrich super PAC would be behind When Mitt Romney Came to Town, a wounding documentary about the GOP frontrunner vs. the workers? And who would have thought that the youth-vote cult figure would turn out to be—Ron Paul? He’s a throwback from a mythical Paleolithic era when there was one phone in the White House and the president was so unencumbered with bureaucracy he answered it himself. I guess that makes him not passé but vintage, which right now, for Obama, also makes him nonthreatening.

Bill Clinton famously said that elections are never about the past, they’re about the future. That’s what Obama so thrillingly represented when, like an emissary from a glowing tomorrow, he stepped out of his time machine and asked us to join him in a future as weightless as he is. No one could have imagined that four years later most Americans would feel they’ve gone backward and downward. The candidate from the future became the president who fell to earth, beleaguered by the chaos of the contentious age he landed in.

The worst thing that can happen to a company—except perhaps for Herman Cain’s Godfather’s Pizza—is for a former executive to run for office. Arkansas’s fusty Rose Law Firm endured a decade of Hillary haters ransacking its files and reputation. Thanks to Dick Cheney, Halliburton found itself cast as a James Bondian mega-villain plotting world dominion. And now Romney’s run has rebranded the bloodless Bain Capital as the epitome of Wall Street flesh eaters. Ambition to be a public servant should now be a retrospective firing offense.

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Michele Bachmann. She nailed what could have been a defining issue when she did her “hold on, moms” aria in Vegas about mothers bearing the recession’s brunt as they try to keep hearth and home together for their kids. The suddenly upturned faces of women in the audience offered the only human connection in a primary season dominated by cavorting testosterone. But then she blew it and went back to droning on about tax reform.

Once the Republicans finish their intramural bloodletting (and they will, believe it or not), they’ll unleash on Obama everything they’ve been aiming at each other, and more. That will be his real test. As a fresh-faced candidate, he assured us we could reason together as citizens of good will, and find common ground and solutions through mutual respect. He became president telling us we didn’t have to fight. That was a wishful illusion. To stay president, he’ll have to, precisely, fight—and fight as hard as, or harder than, his opponents are now fighting each other for the right to fight him. Andrew Sullivan, beginning on page 30, argues that he has the ammo to do it, in abundance.