Just after Donald J. Trump was elected president, Barack Obama slumped in his chair in the Oval Office and addressed an aide standing near a conspicuously placed bowl of apples, emblem of a healthy-snacking policy soon to be swept aside, along with so much else.
“I am so done with all of this,” Mr. Obama said of his job, according to several people familiar with the exchange.
Yet he knew, even then, that a conventional White House retirement was not an option. Mr. Barack Obama, 55 at the time, was stuck holding a baton he had wanted to pass to Hillary Clinton and saddled with a successor whose fixation on him, he believed, was rooted in a bizarre personal animus and the politics of racial backlash exemplified by the birther lie.
“There is no model for my kind of post-presidency,” he told the aide. “I’m clearly renting space inside the guy’s head.”
Which is not to say that Mr. Obama was not committed to his pre-Trump retirement vision — a placid life that was to consist of writing, sun-flecked fairways, policy work through his foundation, producing documentaries with Netflix and family time aplenty at a new $11.7 million spread on Martha’s Vineyard.
Still, more than three years after his exit, the 44th president of the United States is back on a political battlefield he longed to leave, drawn into the fight by an enemy, Mr. Trump, who is hellbent on erasing him, and by a friend, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is equally intent on embracing him.
The stakes of that re-engagement were always going to be high. Mr. Obama is nothing if not protective of his legacy, especially in the face of Mr. Trump’s many attacks. Yet interviews with more than 50 people in the former president’s orbit portray a conflicted combatant, trying to balance deep anger at his successor with an instinct to refrain from a brawl that he fears may dent his popularity and challenge his place in history. Read more