Here's the question vulnerable GOP Reps and Senators have to ask themselves: which helps me out more in 2010, sticking with my effectively powerless leadership, or co-operating with a very popular president during a worldwide crisis that is affecting most Americans directly?
That is an excellent question which cuts right to the heart of much of the problem. I suspect there is not a single answer which can be applied to all Republicans.
Because so many states have congressional districts which are horribly gerrymandered to give a preset number of "safe seats" to both parties, it is in the narrow self interest of many Republicans to oppose President Obama, oppose his policies, and take a very visible position against him. If they are from a district where they are already getting 2/3 of the vote, its probably a safe stance.
However, there are others where this is not the case. The two Republican Senators from the state of Maine come to mind - Snowe and Collins. To win future elections they are going to need a solid number if independent votes and even some Democratic votes.
There are several ways this could play out but a lot of it is going to depend on the Democratic response to the first big effort which succeeds at obstructing part of the Obama program.
Will Harry Reed do something he has so far been hesitant to do and force the Republicans to play their ace card and actually carry out a long and divisive filibuster with the attendant political damage it could wreak? Will the Dems and Obama use that to go to the country and paint the Republicans as partisan obstructionists?
Time will tell.