A former Bush administration figure once told me that there comes a point in a presidency when the public tunes out. Voters stop listening, and the consensus forms that the president is in a defensive crouch. If we hadn’t reached that point before, today sure seemed like it.

President Obama’s approval rating is in free fall. His RealClearPolitics average is below 45 percent. In the most recent CNN poll show him at 54 percent disapproval, tying his all-time high (low?). Sixty percent ( a huge jump from 36 percent in April) believe that “the economy is still in a downturn and conditions are continuing to worsen.” A large plurality (48 percent) think the cuts in the debt-ceiling bill didn’t go far enough.

And all of those numbers were was accumulated before the stock market slid 635 points today. The losses were deep and widespread, as the Post reported:

All 30 components of the Dow plunged in value and 99 percent of the components of the S&P average moved lower. Financial stocks, led by Bank of America, which lost 20 percent to $6.53 per share, led the selling.

Investors also fled into safe investments such as gold, which set a fresh high of $1,713 an ounce, rising a record of nearly $63.80.

Investors have been flocking to gold more and more this year as evidence mounted that the U.S. economy is slowing down. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve’s policymaking committee is set to meet and decide whether the faltering economy warrants additional policy responses.

Recall that the market was down about 400 when Obama began speaking this afternoon.

It’s no wonder that the GOP challengers bashed the president. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and the rest all had a common message: Obama’s lack of leadership and policies have sunk the economy. Looking at the past few days, it’s a powerful message.