WASHINGTON -- In President Obama's first term, a promise of bipartisanship withered on stony ground; as his second begins, he has openly embraced confrontation.
On a parade of hot-button political issues, including the budget, gun control and immigration, Obama has begun to hammer on weak points in the Republican coalition.
He has made little effort to woo members of the opposition in Congress, whose positions he has characterized publicly as "intransigent," "extreme" and "absurd." Instead, he appears intent on dividing them.
That approach has unified Democrats, who remain staunchly supportive of the president, while exacerbating splits in Republican ranks, according to polls. While the strategy involves considerable risk, Obama and his aides seem convinced it offers their best hope of winning major legislative victories in an era of deep partisan divisions in Washington and the wider electorate.
The administration wants to "stay away from inside-the-Beltway, elite negotiations and try to pursue an outside-in-strategy, where the president seeks to mobilize public opinion and put pressure on a minority of Republicans," said William Galston of the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank.
The idea, he said, is to find weak spots in the GOP coalition, "stick a wedge into the crack and wiggle it back and forth until it breaks."
During the first term, Obama and his aides engaged in lengthy negotiations and offered concessions aimed at winning a handful of Republican votes during battles over health care and the economic stimulus.
That effort proved futile, whether because of Obama's own inability to reach across the aisle (the Republican view), the intransigence of his opposition (the Democratic version) or the inherent problems of compromise in a divided country.
During the presidential campaign, Obama and top aides suggested the Republican determination to oppose him would wane if he won re-election. "The fever will break," became a favored White House metaphor.
That hasn't happened, and the current White House strategy tacitly acknowledges that bridging the partisan gaps likely will remain beyond Obama's power. At the same time, Obama and his advisers feel more confident they can prevail -- as they did during the "fiscal cliff" battle over tax rates in December.
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama was not adopting "a confrontational strategy" but acting confidently "with the experience of four years."