It doesn't get much better than the exhilaration Barack Obama felt when he looked out at the hundreds of supporters packed into McCormick Place at 12:38 on the morning of November 7, 2012. There he was, in his hometown of Chicago, flushed with victory, only the 15th incumbent ever reelected to a second presidential term. It didn't seem at all boastful when he proclaimed to cheers that the nation had just "voted for action, not politics as usual."
Now, a year later, here he is, in Washington, sobered by a succession of setbacks and no longer quite so sure that he is seeing anything but politics as usual. For the president, it has been a very tough year. Almost nothing that Obama publicly predicted would follow his reelection has come to pass. He had optimistically proclaimed in a Rolling Stone interview that his victory "might break the fever" with Republicans who had declared their top goal was to deny him a second term. With him never again appearing on a ballot, he said then, his hope was that Republicans "might say to themselves, 'You know what? We've lost our way here. We need to refocus on trying to get things done for the American people.' "
When CNBC's John Harwood reminded Obama of that statement in a recent interview, the president clung to the hope that "the majority of Republicans around the country" want to work with him. But he acknowledged that doesn't seem to include Republicans in Washington. Claiming, "I have bent over backwards to work with the Republican Party," he added, "Am I exasperated? Absolutely, I'm exasperated."
This, after all, is a president who thought he would be able to avoid most second-term traps. Instead, Obama has suffered through one of the most daunting rollouts ever for the second half of a presidency. His troubles began less than 24 hours after his victory speech, when he learned that CIA Director David Petraeus was quitting because of an extramarital affair. Before the month was out, the Republican-led investigations into Benghazi gained steam, with the controversy claiming its biggest victim only five weeks after the election when Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of State.
While this was developing, Obama was engaged in fiscal-cliff battles with Republicans, securing a victory on higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans but allowing the GOP to lock in the bulk of the Bush-era tax cuts. And, as a backdrop to the Washington infighting, on the day after Rice's withdrawal, a gunman shocked the nation by killing 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The new year brought more bad news for the president. Instead of going for immigration reform as his top legislative priority, he squandered much of his political capital on a doomed effort to enact gun restrictions. In March and April, House Republicans battered him on Benghazi. In May, he learned that the Internal Revenue Service had inappropriately monitored conservative groups, putting him on the defensive. At the same time, he came under fire for Justice Department investigations of journalists.