Mr. Obama’s expansion of executive authority has been one of the defining features of his first term in the White House, citing those powers as a way to circumvent Congress on actions such as recess appointments and committing U.S. forces to organize a “no-fly zone” over Libya.
It is a stark contrast to 2008, when candidate Obama vowed to rein in executive power.
“Obama the constitutional law scholar who takes a very limited view of executive power is not the president who has been pretty vigorous in advancing what power he has and is behaving in ways that are less transparent than many on the left would like to see,” Mr. Howell said.
John Hudak, of the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Obama has shown that if he cannot get something through Congress, he will do what he can from a unilateral perspective to get things done.
“So it ends up being quite an irony. If the president could get something from Congress on a compromise, he might take that, but instead, since he’s not getting much of anything from Capitol Hill, he essentially is taking everything he wants, and the unilateral actions let him do that in a pretty substantial way,” Mr. Hudak said.
Just as the Democrats took shots at Mr. Bush’s executive authority during the 2008 primary season, so Mr. Obama’s powers were a target in this year’s Republican campaign — particularly for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the libertarian icon who argued that Republicans have become too eager to sacrifice individual liberties in the name of national security.
But debates over presidential power have given way to bread-and-butter issues such as jobs and recent foreign policy crises, leaving Mr. Romney room to recast himself and stake out the same kind of broad authority that Mr. Obama has claimed.
“All presidents have these extraordinary public expectations of them, and they have somewhere between four and eight years to try to address them and move the ball in a way that advances their policy objectives,” Mr. Howell said. “So no president is going to come forward and say ‘Give me less power.’ They are all interested in acquiring and guarding and nurturing as much power as they can.”