When President George Bush famously said on the day after his re-election that he had earned political capital and was now going to spend it, he was already succumbing to that classic second-term delusion of infallibility.
Mr Bush's approval ratings have fallen to their lowest point
With approval ratings at their lowest level of the presidency - over the situation in Iraq and an unpopular domestic agenda - it may be that Mr Bush had earned less capital than he thought.
He has encountered unexpected cross-party resistance over some controversial nominations, such as John Bolton's for UN ambassador, in a Republican-held Congress unwilling to roll over.
"The Republicans in Congress privately are quite critical of the Bush White House for the way he's dealt with Congress," says Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank.
"He's dealt with Congress as if he were the CEO and they are the worker bees."
In the corridors of congressional power, those private concerns are becoming more and more public. The first sign was that rarest of things in the current highly partisan climate - a bi-partisan deal.
When the Republican leadership tried to force through the appointment of judges by threatening to end the Senate tradition of filibustering, seven Republican senators struck a deal with seven democrats.
"We got some big issues coming up, particularly on the judges and trying to move forward. Part of the compromise that we worked out was to encourage the president to use the 'advice' part of 'advice and consent' in the constitution to come to us early on some of these nominees," said Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, one of the "gang of 14".
For Democrats, such as Californian Senator Barbara Boxer, the president is largely to blame for the stalemate.
"He won't reach out to us," she says. "He is very stubborn and I think if he did reach out, we could get some things done around here. He's definitely a lame duck, but he's making it worse by not reaching out to us."
This is not a time to be a lame duck - with so much on the agenda, such as making his first term tax cuts permanent and appointing federal judges.
And then there is the reform of the social security system, described in a White House memo as one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times.
Mr Bush has invested a huge amount of energy in trying to sell his plan of turning America's social security system into less of a public and more of a private one.
He has made 60 stops around the country to win over a public that for the moment remains steadfastly sceptical, but that has not stopped Mr Bush.
Also proving to be a hard sell is the so-called war on terror, which in Mr Bush's second term speeches has evolved into the concept of "spreading freedom and democracy".
The crucible of this change remains Iraq.
And with the administration facing widespread criticism over its handling of the insurgency, there is a perceptible sense of nervousness or, in White House speak, "a need to re-focus".
"President Bush discovered the value politically of moving from the war on terror to a war for freedom or a campaign for freedom," says Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"But having taken on such a broad agenda, when things start to cool down in the Mid-East as they have, people immediately begin to ask 'I thought we were on a campaign for freedom in the world - where are the results?'"
President Bush is often compared with America's most recent two-term Republican president.
Although Mr Reagan won a convincing second election victory - his Republican Party did not control Congress in the way that it does now.
But his radical agenda, in particular tax reform, was only pushed through thanks to a more consensual relationship with Congress.
No wonder Mr Bush sounds frustrated when he reflects, in public, on the problems that he is having in pushing through his agenda.
Mr Bush has had setbacks - losing Republican support on issues he feels strongly about, such as intelligence reform and stem cell research - but that does not tell the whole story.
Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says Mr Bush's charisma and popularity among the Republican faithful still gets results - and should not be underestimated.
"Some moderate Republicans are voting for judicial nominees they don't really like. A number of Republicans are voting for John Bolton even though they think he is really a terrible choice for the position at the United Nations.
"They continue to support him and as a consequence, on second-tier matters, beneath the mega-issues like social security, the president will continue to have some success."
But this is a presidency of ambition - already looking towards its legacy.
As the president's closest political adviser, Karl Rove, has made clear, the ultimate goal is to make the Republican Party the natural party of government for the foreseeable future.
"What is most important is for the president to keep his popularity up with the people and then Congress will fear him," says Michael Deavor, President Reagan's former deputy chief of staff.
"The problem for the president at this point - and it may change by the mid-term elections - is that his ratings are really low, so the Congress can say 'I don't need to pay any attention to you'."
But are we seeing panic in the White House? Not a bit of it, according to Mr Ornstein.
"I think Bush believes that he's got four years here. There will be ebbs and flows, and there will come a time when he is back in the saddle. It's a very risky strategy though."
Mr Bush has shown himself to be a very risk-tolerant leader. It is an approach that has played well for him in the past and it may do again in the future.
But with the situation in Iraq seeing no improvement and the war in Congress sure to become even more intense, it will take all his political skills to dispel the impression of second-term blues.