President Barack Obama hopes to spark a pitchfork revolt against Republicans over sequester-induced budget cuts — but many Democrats fret that he’s undermined that effort with an early strategy marred by hype, poor planning and muddled messaging…

“I think they probably went over the top in terms of saying that the consequences were going to be horrible, especially because it’s happened and the lines in the airports aren’t long, the world hasn’t changed overnight,” says former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, an on-again, off-again Obama critic who supports the broad outlines of Obama’s $4 trillion “grand bargain” proposal…

One top Democratic Congressional aide offered this bit of advice to Obama: “Don’t accentuate a fight you don’t intend to wage [and] can’t win. … They spent two weeks building up sequester as a horror show and then got fact-checked a dozen times and were forced to back off their own claims of it being a disaster once they were forced to acquiesce to the cuts happening.”

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For Republicans, the clearest indication that they had won this latest round in the ongoing budget fight was Obama’s acknowledgment that he would sign a continuing resolution to fund the government (the current one expires at the end of March) that included the lower spending levels under sequestration, in addition to the spending caps already in place under the Budget Control Act of 2011. In other words, that he would not risk a government shutdown in an effort to undo the automatic cuts…

“The problem was, on day one when Obama started talking about how bad the sequester was, nobody was disagreeing with him,” a senior House Republican aide says. “We always agreed that there would be programs that were unnecessarily going to be impacted by this. The only way for them to gain ground was to go over the top, and they just boxed themselves into a corner of hysterics, claiming the world was going to end, and then it didn’t.”…

“The White House has been badly served throughout the Obama administration by making assumptions about what Republicans want, rather than actually talking to Republicans and conservatives, and finding out what moves them,” the House leadership aide says. “I don’t know if it’s because they watch too much MSNBC, or what, but they have a habit of telling us what they think we want, and have made some bad assumptions about the principles of conservatism.”

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“If we’re going to solve these problems, it’s going to have to be done on a bipartisan basis,” said [Sen. Ron] Johnson on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think most Republicans are more than willing to work with this president.”…

“I got a call from his chief of staff over the weekend to talk about, you know what we need to do in terms of developing the process,” said Johnson. “So, you know we’ll — I’ll certainly give the president the benefit of the doubt.”…

“If you’re taking a look at, in an entitlement reform package… you know actually bringing in revenue for those entitlement reforms, I might look at that,” he said. But Johnson cautioned that the high taxes were already battering the economy.

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“This is the first time I’ve ever had a conversation with the president lasting more than, say, two minutes or televised exchanges,” Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “So I’ve never really had a conversation with him on these issues before. I’m excited that we had this conversation — we had a very frank exchange. We come from different perspectives; I ran against him in the last election. So we exchanged very different frank, candid views with one another that were very different. But at least we had this conversation.”…

“Will he resume the campaign mode, will he resume attacking Republicans and impugning our motives, will he resume what is long believed to be a plan to win the 2014 elections, or will he sincerely change and try and find common ground, try and work with Republicans to get something done?” Mr. Ryan said. “That’s what we hope happens.”

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Senator No. 2: “At the end [of Obama’s dinner with Republicans] I mentioned, ‘Share [with us] how you see this going forward.’ ” Here the president “got hazy. . . . I told him this will never work without adult supervision from the White House. I don’t think he comprehends that this is part of getting something done.”…

When the senator had met with the president in the past, during debt talks, “it was a lecture, it was preachy.” But at the dinner the president showed “reach out.

“There was nothing like it. There were at least three senators there who I could tell got a little emotional—there was something about the meeting where it was with such sincerity. Nobody held back.”

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Here’s another possibility: The White House screwed up the sequester fight, the president’s approval ratings are dropping, heretofore-friendly reporters are criticizing his failure to lead, and, while Obama remains relatively unconcerned about debt and deficits, he recognizes the political utility of reaching out to Republicans now in order to demonize them once again in the months leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. In short, it’s a setup

The White House recognizes that the fight over the sequester is about much more than the immediate reduction in the growth of federal spending. In some respects, it’s about the central rationale of the Obama presidency—that government is a force for good in the lives of Americans, not just necessary but constructive and even benevolent. Think back to the Obama campaign’s “Julia,” a fictional single woman who was aided by a caring and compassionate government at every stage of her life. The president’s argument over the past two months is that the government is so important it cannot be trimmed even a little. On the contrary, from universal pre-K to more green energy to new medical research, it ought to be doing things tomorrow that it’s not doing today.

So it’s fair to ask: Why should Republicans trust a man whose second Inaugural Address was a clarion call to greater government activism, whose State of the Union the New York Times described as a case for “closing out the politics of austerity,” who has previously demonstrated bad faith by fighting even modest reductions in spending growth, and whose second-term strategy so far has depended on casting Republicans as villains?

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“I think he gets it,” Coburn said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think he’s genuinely reaching out.”

“But you’ve got a lot scabs and sores on people that’s going to take a while for that to heal,” Coburn told host David Gregory.

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As Democrats and Republicans, we may disagree on the best way to achieve our goals, but I’m confident we can agree on what those goals should be. A strong and vibrant middle class. An economy that allows businesses to grow and thrive. An education system that gives more Americans the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. An immigration system that actually works for families and businesses. Stronger communities and safer streets for our children.

Making progress on these issues won’t be easy. In the months ahead, there will be more contentious debate and honest disagreement between principled people who want what’s best for this country. But I still believe that compromise is possible. I still believe we can come together to do big things. And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief.