The expression "It’s all downhill from here" can be taken in two different ways. The first is positive, something to the effect of, "The hard work of getting up the hill is over and we’ll be able to coast the rest of the way down." The second negative, meaning, "things are in decline and only going to get worse at an increasingly faster rate."
At the beginning of Obama’s second term, both meanings of the phrase are applicable.
For the president, we can imagine him taking the positive connotation to heart. He no longer needs to concern himself with reelection so he may be able to take a heavier hand with regards to executive orders.
He’s also going into his second act with a Democrat-controlled senate, and in the House he has an advantage vis-a-vis House Republicans who have a 27% approval rating.
Obama has a tailwind.
While the Republicans are still fractured, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to offer much of a united front; this, however, may be where the second meaning of the phrase comes in.
Representatives from majority conservative districts aren’t subject to the same electoral pressures as their colleagues in the senate. While these representatives are presumably safe from a liberals, they could face opposition from a more conservative challenger. With their fates tied closer to their district’s approval rather than the party’s national ratings, these legislators are likely to be more stalwart in their positions.
These are the individuals preparing to draw a line in the sand on the debt ceiling. And with a fractured Republican elite, it may not be possible to cut a deal with the Democrats and enforce party discipline at the same time.
The president is entering his second term with good field position and decent political capital — at least compared to the Republicans as a party. The fight, however, is going to be messy wherever pockets of the opposition have circled the wagons.
What’s likely going forward is the political system continuing to seize up as it operates under an intense partisan divide, and one that features a less-than cohesive Republican Party.
To return to the original metaphor, it certainly is all downhill from here for the president. The hardest work is over, but there are still some serious cracks in the pavement he’ll have to avoid on the way down.