It looks increasingly unlikely that President Obama will get much of a political honeymoon despite his solid re-election victory earlier this month.
Republican leaders say there are several reasons why Obama will have a rough time getting along with the GOP opposition in Congress—including lack of what the Republicans consider a mandate for him in the November election. They point out that even though Obama won a second term and the Democrats kept their majority in the Senate, the voters also restored Republican control of the House.
And there are lingering hard feelings from the presidential race.
"He ran an overwhelmingly negative, issue-less campaign," says Frank Donatelli, chairman of the GOPAC conservative political action committee. "That certainly will result in a much shorter honeymoon ... There's no love lost [between Democrats and Republicans] over the kind of campaign he ran."
Adds Democratic pollster Geoff Garin: "I don't think it's much of a honeymoon in Washington." But Garin says the voters may be willing to give Obama "a little bit of a grace period" in his fights with Congress. "Voters are eager to put the election behind them and to give Obama a chance to pass his programs and get things done even after a closely divided election like this one," Garin told me. "There's an inclination among voters to hope that the winner will be successful ... Honeymoon may be too strong a word, given how polarized the country is. Voters will give him the benefit of the doubt."
Garin adds: "The acid test will be how much the Republicans try to govern through filibuster and subpoena."
Illustrating the shaky nature of the Obama honeymoon is the current fight over the budget. Unless all sides come to an agreement in the next few weeks, automatic tax increases and spending cuts will be triggered on January 1, and some economists say this could cause another recession. But there are been few signs of compromise so far, with Obama and the Democrats insisting on tax hikes for the rich, and the Republicans arguing for big spending cuts to reduce the deficit.
Another flashpoint has been the job performance of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Some Republicans including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say Rice was misleading in her initial comments explaining why the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked several weeks ago. The attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including an ambassador. Obama has strongly defended Rice. If he names her the new secretary of state when Hillary Clinton steps down from that job as expected in early 2013, it could trigger a nasty nomination fight.
Donatelli, former White House political director for President Ronald Reagan, says there will also be battles over other issues, including Obama's massive rewrite of the laws governing health care. A particular point of contention is the individual mandate that requires most Americans to buy health insurance. Many conservatives want to roll back the mandate.
And there will be debates next year on education policy and on the pace of energy development in the United States.
But Donatelli says progress could be made in some areas where the two major parties have a common interest in reform, such as immigration and the tax code.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.