RealClearPolitics’ polling average shows a new record disapproval for President Obama (53.2 percent). The spread between his approval (43 percent) and disapproval is also at an all-time high (10.2 percent). Much of the slide is fueled by the Gallup poll, which yesterday showed a 38/55 percent approval/disapproval split.

Is this a temporary blip, a sign of the summer doldrums or the beginning of a steady descent toward George W. Bush-like second-term polling numbers? Well, much depends on the economy and on Obama himself.

As for the economy, job numbers this Friday will give us one indication, perhaps the most important one, regarding the direction of the economy. At this point, even if Obama were to implement picture-perfect fiscal policies and offer nothing but comforting words to U.S. employers, it is unlikely that the unemployment rate will be at or near 8 percent by Election Day in 2012. Time is running out; the number of jobs needed to be created each month to move the unemployment stats downward is too great for him to show significant progress in the months remaining before November 2012.

As for Obama, two factors point to a confrontational speech on job and a dead-on-arrival jobs proposal. He is under tremendous pressure to reassure his base, which is demanding something “big.” That means lots of spending and a refusal to undertake systemic, revenue-neutral tax reform. Moreover, lacking a defensible economic record, Obama is left with only one option: a scorched-earth campaign against the Republicans. It doesn’t matter that his policy proposals will not be implemented; what he wants is confrontation. Convinced of the magic of his own rhetoric and blinded by the self-delusion that he “wins” these standoffs, he will embark, I suspect, on more campaign tours filled with the same sort of ultra-partisan rhetoric that characterize his summer bus tour.

All of this may help Obama reassure his base. His poll numbers may improve marginally as liberals “come home.” But his fundamental problem remains. There aren’t enough liberals to carry him to reelection, and most of the rest of the country has lost confidence in him. Absent a miraculous economic recovery or a fatally flawed GOP challenger (always a possibility), it’s hard to see his path to reelection.