In a matter of days, the Obama administration has done something that the president's political opponents have failed to do over four and a half years: inflicted serious damage to President Obama's public standing.
Obama has throughout his presidency aggressively combated GOP criticism -- on issues large and small -- mocking the attacks as political theater short on facts.
But with his own administration now embroiled in a flurry of controversies, including IRS mistreatment of conservative groups and the Justice Department's secret monitoring of journalists' phones, the president is coming across not as a forceful defender but as a bystander who claims he didn't know what the people who work for him were doing. That posture, analysts said, will fuel public cynicism toward government and stoke fears of a White House in crisis.
"The Benghazi, IRS and Associated Press stories have a common thread: They deal with how policy is administered," said Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidential historian who focuses on White House communication. "Management has been a weak point for the president from early in his administration. That is why these stories hit so hard. He has not been ahead of events but rather has had to rely on news organizations to inform him of what is going on in his own administration."
But administration officials on Wednesday were still trying to deflect blame from the president, despite a battering in the media and on Capitol Hill.
Even after an inspector general's report documented the Internal Revenue Service's repeated targeting of conservative groups, White House officials refused to speculate about firing anybody. Obama spokesman Jay Carney declined to say whether the president still has confidence in Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who also claimed to know nothing about his agency's spying on journalists, told a House committee that Obama learned of it only by "reading the newspapers."
In response to criticisms that it was constraining a free press, the White House on Wednesday asked Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to reintroduce legislation that helps journalists protect their sources. The White House had previously opposed such a shield law.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod echoed the calls of those urging the White House to release internal emails about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
"Well, I think they would benefit from getting all these emails out in public," he said on MSNBC.
Administration officials finally released those emails later Wednesday during a background briefing with reporters.
In trying to insulate Obama from a trio of simmering scandals, the White House has opened the president to questions about why he knows so little about departments that report to him, analysts said.
"This is a White House that has ascribed to the notion that the buck stops anywhere but here," said Patrick Griffin, a GOP consultant. "The president has to understand this is his government. He has to accept some responsibility for something. It's a serious mistake."
The White House is so immersed in damage control that Carney, Obama's top spokesman, was fielding questions Wednesday about his personal well-being following a series of bruising briefings with reporters.
"It may sound odd," Carney insisted, "but I enjoy coming out here when it's challenging."