President Obama may have an advantage over congressional Republicans now but he is heading for trouble, according to influential Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
"He's got a long and difficult road ahead, and he's in a precarious position," McInturff told me. "He's the president and the economy is still in the tank." Americans will eventually hold him responsible if things don't improve because he is the top official of the government, McInturff adds.
McInturff's view of Obama's vulnerability is bolstered somewhat by the latest opinion polls. A Reuters/Ipsos survey finds that 43 percent of Americans approve of Obama's job performance, down 7 percentage points from mid-February. This finding is similar to the findings of McInturff's own polling.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll also finds that a plurality of 38 percent of Americans believe that all the major players in Washington—Republicans, Democrats and Obama—deserve most of the blame for the automatic spending cuts now being phased in. "This is a pox on everyone's house, really," says Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
Some GOP strategists say Obama's real goal is not to govern effectively but to do everything he can to smash the Republican party so the GOP loses control of the House and fails to take over the Senate in 2014.
This would explain why Obama and his allies have been attacking the GOP relentlessly in recent weeks for allowing the sequester to go into effect and refusing to consider additional tax revenue, only spending cuts, to reduce the deficit.
The administration has also been making dire predictions about the effect of the sequester on many programs in an effort to portray the GOP as heartless and extreme in blocking a compromise.
Obama's dinner with a dozen Republican senators Wednesday night is being greeted with considerable skepticism among GOP strategists. They argue that the session was little more than a PR gambit to make the president look reasonable and approachable. He is also scheduled to visit Republican legislators on Capitol Hill next week.
GOP advisers argue that Obama is responding to polls showing that Americans want the infighting in Washington to stop and want all sides to act like adults, not squabbling children.
But the real test of his intentions will be whether he quickly tones down his anti-Republican rhetoric and starts to build real relationships with legislators, GOP strategists say.
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 email@example.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.