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No more Mr. Nice Guy

For four years, President Obama tried his best to play patty-cake with the Republicans in Congress.

Well, that was then, and THIS is now:

Barack Obama is looking for a few good fights.

Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility — even the necessity — of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.

Obama’s willingness to take a more overtly adversarial stance is, in part, a nod to the reality that he’s about to start his second term with solid approval numbers — “Hit now, as hard as you can, because your power starts to die in six, eight months,” according to a top aide to a Senate Republican who has often locked horns with the White House.

That entails taking a tough line with the Hill GOP on Hagel — who has vowed to battle “distortions” of his record on Iran and Israel — and stiff-arming the GOP at the start of negotiations over the debt ceiling and across-the-board spending cuts. It’s less clear whether Obama will be quite as bellicose on issues that require a more subtle approach, like immigration, guns and climate change, although his aides are talking tough.

Picking a few choice fights “is a very good strategy if you know that applying all that pressure gets you the result you are looking for,” said former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, an adviser to Obama’s 2012 campaign. “But if you pick a fight, you have to be sure the tactic helps ensure the result you want rather than making it harder to achieve.”

There’s also a long-term strategy: Two months after a decisive presidential win, Obama and his party already are eyeing the 2014 midterms. Highlighting the contrasts between the White House and congressional Republicans could flip the House back to Democrats, giving Obama a final two-year governing majority that bookends the one he enjoyed during his first two years in office.

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