By Glenn Thrush and Elaina Plott, The New York Times

Just after Donald 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,” 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. 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 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 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, drawn into the fight by an enemy, Trump, who is hellbent on erasing him, and by a friend, Joe Biden, who is equally intent on embracing him.

The stakes of that reengagement were always going to be high. Obama is nothing if not protective of his legacy, especially in the face of 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.

That calculus, though, may be changing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis. As America’s first Black president, Obama sees the current social and racial awakening as an opportunity to elevate a 2020 election dictated by Trump’s mud-wrestling style into something more meaningful — to channel a new, youthful movement toward a political aim, as he did in 2008.

He is doing so carefully, characteristically intent on keeping his cool, his reputation, his political capital and his dreams of a cosseted retirement intact.

“I don’t think he is hesitant. I think he is strategic,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a top adviser for more than a decade. “He has always been strategic about using his voice; it’s his most valuable commodity.”

Many supporters have been pressing him to be more aggressive.