Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, paueses while speaking during a news conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. Timothy Geithner, Obama's lead negotiator on efforts to avoid the end-of-the-year fiscal cliff, is meeting separately today with each of the top four leaders in Congress. It is the first round of direct talks with congressional leaders since Obama hosted them on Nov. 16 at the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Harry Reid Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

The latest New York Times/CBS poll has interesting nuggets.

President Obama remains in the doldrums with only 41 percent approval and a significant margin disapproving of his handling of the economy (57 percent) and foreign policy (48 disapproval to 39 percent approval). Overall, 59 percent pronounce themselves somewhat or very disappointed in Obama. Only 6 percent think Obamacare is working well and should be kept in place while 42 percent want to junk the whole thing and 50 percent say it needs changes.

Republicans enjoy a  three-point lead in the generic congressional poll. (That’s better than the GOP’s standing in the fall of 2010 before its sweeping victories.) However, support for the tea party is cratering. A plurality of voters (31 percent) have an unfavorable impression of the tea party, with only 37 percent of Republicans sharing a favorable view. As the Wall Street Journal points out,  a new conservative think tank study finds:

 “At least six pollsters ask people whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party,” write the authors. All of the recent surveys showed a rise in unfavorable sentiment since the question was first asked. “In Pew’s poll, 24 percent had an unfavorable opinion in February 2010; in October 2013, more than double that number, 49 percent, gave that response.”

It turns out that even Republicans are increasingly skeptical of the movement. “We would expect Democrats to have unfavorable views of the right-leaning Tea Party, but in several polls, many Republicans, especially those who call themselves moderate to liberal Republicans, now voice unfavorable opinions. These negative feelings were exacerbated during the government shutdown.” write [the authors].

The tea party continues to receive strong backing from conservative Republicans—65 percent, according to a Pew poll taken in October—but its appeal has not spread much beyond those voters. Tea party supporters “look a lot like the conservative GOP base,” write the authors. That may partly explain why tea party candidates who are challenging conservative Republicans in Senate primaries this year are having a tough time of it.

And finally Speaker of the House John Boehner’s approval numbers have bounced back as the shutdown fades from memory and the House bludgeons the White House on Obamacare.

Put this all together and we get to a few take-aways:

First, it is no wonder then that the GOP House and Senate candidates will want to tie every Democratic candidate to Obama and his agenda. He is a drag on everyone with a “D” next to his name and may well be the decisive factor in losing the Senate.

Second, there are several problems for Obama and the Democrats: the economy, foreign policy, Obamacare, etc.. They all are fodder for Republicans. The more frequently the incumbents supported Obama, the greater their peril.

Third, the GOP may get some mileage out of the argument that Republicans will be the check on Obama. Not only is he unpopular and his policies disliked, but concern about the unilateralism with which he now changes laws at his whim may be gaining traction, even among liberals. (“I believe we are now at a constitutional tipping point in our system. It’s a dangerous point for our system to be in, and I believe that your response has to begin before this president leaves office. No one in our system goes it alone. . . . It is simply untrue that we’re living in very different or unprecedented times. The framers lived in these times. . . . This is not a different political time, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for extra-constitutional action.”) Democrats sure aren’t going to stop him, Republicans can argue persuasively.

And finally, the way to beat Democrats is not with candidates associated with the tea party, whose image is in decline and whose greatest “achievement” was the loathed 2013 government shutdown. In a race against a Democratic incumbent, a Republican who hails from the segment of the conservative movement that brought about the shutdown and opposes even its own GOP leadership on virtually all legislative solutions will be handicapped.

All of this can change in the coming months, but unless Republicans make more serious errors, they run vulnerable candidates or Democrats shift the focus and demonize Republican candidates, the president and his party are in deep, deep trouble. Republicans would do well to craft a center-right agenda so that if they claim victory, they also can claim a mandate. That means taking seriously the good effort by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to begin a tax reform debate, a robust alternative to Obamacare and other pro-job measures like domestic energy development. Republican have a unique opportunity here; they shouldn’t let it slip through their fingers.