President Obama needs to find ways to get beyond the bad news, take the offensive against his adversaries, and show strong leadership despite recent setbacks to his administration, say strategists of both major parties.
Obama is concluding one of the worst weeks of his second term. His trip to Europe not only failed to achieve any significant breakthroughs on the economy or national security, but his two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin didn't bring them any closer on how to deal with the bloody civil war in Syria. Obama is backing the anti-government rebels and Putin is supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Back home, there has been progress in the Senate on major immigration legislation. But, in a stark reminder of Obama's declining influence, the movement came when he was out of the country and was due mostly to diligent work by a variety of senators. And prospects for the legislation remain shaky because of opposition from House Republicans.
Obama is also suffering a credibility gap, recent polls suggest, partly because of scandals and controversies that have recently been swirling around his administration. They include Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny; surveillance programs that critics say violate Americans' privacy, and anxiety about the future of the economy and the direction of the country.
Says Ken Duberstein, former White House chief of staff for Ronald Reagan: "They have to figure out a way to reassure the American people about his credibility and demonstrate his leadership on the world stage."
Adds Duberstein: "With all the scandal and all the problems popping up, some would say it appears that this is becoming a whack-a-mole presidency," where Obama spends his time reacting to problems as if he were playing an arcade game.
Democratic strategists admit privately that Obama has hit a rough patch, but they say he can recover if he gets proactive. "And remember, the Republicans in Congress are a lot more unpopular than either President Obama or the Democrats," says a prominent Democratic consultant, "and that will help the president over the long run."
Obama advisers say he plans to announce a comprehensive (and long-promised) initiative on climate change in the next few weeks. And his aides hope for some positive publicity when he visits Africa – specifically, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania –on an eight-day trip starting next week. He is expected to get a positive reaction at each stop. But the costs of the trip are being scrutinized by his critics, and some say the price tag could approach $100 million.
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 "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.