He’s underwater on every metric — overall job approval, foreign policy, the economy, health care, dealing with Syria and Iran, you name it. And why wouldn’t he be? There’s nothing he’s doing anymore, apart I guess from a few new environmental regs to please the greens, that has either side excited about Hopenchange. And as I mentioned in passing last night, per Bloomberg News, he’s now also underwater on his favorable rating. Having a net negative job approval rating is nothing new for The One, but most Americans traditionally say that they like him even when they’re not happy with his performance. Not anymore. The NSA scandal, weakness towards Assad and Russia, and the daily drumbeat of ObamaCare glitches have made Bambi less cuddly.

Key strategic question, then, for congressional Republicans (who remain, as always, less popular than O): Do they press their advantage against a lame duck by risking a shutdown or, more dramatically, hitting the debt limit to try to extract concessions on ObamaCare? Or would that backfire by swinging the public behind O and putting some gas back in his political machine’s engine? If his numbers stay this low, he’ll be a lame duck for the next two years, unable to do anything to advance his agenda — especially if the GOP picks up Senate seats.

Forty-nine percent of the public disapproves of Mr. Obama’s job performance, and 43 percent approves, matching his worst measures in two years, the poll shows. Only 30 percent of Americans believe he cares “a lot” about their needs and problems, a figure that has fallen steadily from early in his first term…

[T]here is little doubt that the president is being hurt by questions over his health overhaul. Only one in five Americans say they expect to be positively affected by the law…

Mr. Obama … is viewed more negatively than President Bill Clinton was the last time there was a government shutdown, in the fall of 1995. In October of that year, shortly before the federal government partly closed down, 38 percent of Americans disapproved of Mr. Clinton’s job performance — 11 points less than those who disapprove of Mr. Obama now.

Facing a popular president in a shutdown is one thing, facing a lame duck whom no one’s happy with right now is something else. And in fact, per Harry Enten, the 1995 shutdown actually didn’t do much to boost Bill Clinton’s popularity. Conventional wisdom has it that GOP stubbornness propelled him to reelection, but as Enten shows, Clinton’s job approval actually dipped (albeit slightly) after the shutdown. It was the economy that brought him back in 1996. So if you’re worried that Republicans would resuscitate O’s presidency by playing chicken with him over a shutdown or the debt ceiling, maybe you shouldn’t worry so much.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t worry at all:

defundshutdown

Maybe all of that is moot now, though, given that the House GOP seems to be moving towards demanding minor concessions to avert a shutdown and pushing the big-ticket ObamaCare stuff off to the debt-ceiling battle. Would that play better?

debtceilingseparate

The X factor for a debt-ceiling standoff, now as in the past, is how bad the fallout would be. For all the media doomsaying about the repercussions of a budget standoff and government shutdown, it’s unlikely that it would last for even one pay cycle. A deal would be struck in a week or two and federal employees would get their checks, likely without missing a beat. Markets freaking out over the U.S. hitting its debt limit would be something … different, the political (and economic) effects of which are unpredictable. Which party wants to emerge as the “winner” from the rubble of whatever happens? This is why, I assume, Boehner isn’t demanding defunding or repeal as a condition of a debt-ceiling agreement but something more modest, like a temporary delay, that Democrats might conceivably agree to in the name of averting catastrophe. When push comes to shove, GOP leaders don’t want this bomb go off, even if that means looking weak in setting their demands. Not a strong position from which to negotiate, but less risky for the country than the alternative.