Strip away everything else, and the heart of Barack Obama’s appeal was supposed to be a very simple proposition: I’ve got this.

For years, his critics have tried to argue that he doesn’t. Now they believe they finally have proof everyone can agree on: the botched Obamacare website, the questions on the NSA spying activities and handling of events in Syria and Iran.

Republicans, who took a hit last month over the government shutdown, believe they can turn these fresh controversies into a new opening to delegitimize his presidency and batter his party in next year’s midterms. Rather than policy and ideology, the issue is competence.

They see a direct connection between the management questions and claims of tattered credibility from Obama, who for years claimed that no one’s plan would be canceled due to Obamacare. The president apologized Thursday in an interview with NBC News, saying, “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”

Complaints that Obama isn’t up to the job and was making promises that government could never deliver on are older than either of the White House dogs. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama wasn’t ready in 2008. Mitt Romney said Obama was in over his head. House Republicans claimed his bumbling cost lives in the Fast and Furious operation and Benghazi, and said he stumbled through the response to Syria. But now they have concrete examples.

“That lack of executive experience,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told POLITICO, “is beginning to show up.”

“I think it’s not just competency, it’s not more sufficient hands-on management, because the buck always stops at the president’s desk,” McCain said in an interview. “That, of course, is damaging even after those particular issues are dispensed with.”

Republicans say that’s resonating with voters.

“They start to question whether their government is capable of doing basic functions that are done every day in the real world, and that’s a competency issue, and I think that the American people are going to want some accountability and going to want a government that can get things done,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “This reflects poorly on the people in his party, all of whom voted for this — and they’re going to be in a defensive crouch next year trying to defend this.”

Obama acknowledged the deep problems with the Obamacare website on Thursday, but said he wanted to believe that this wouldn’t infect the public with skepticism about everything else he does.

“What most people I hope also recognize is that when you try to do something big like make our health care system better that there are going to be problems along the way, even if ultimately what you’re doing is going to make a whole lot of people better off,” Obama said. “And I hope that people will look at the end product.”

Democratic senators up for reelection met with Obama this week in the White House to hear what the administration is doing to fix the Affordable Care Act rollout mess. But they want more than words.

“Don’t tell me, show me,” is how Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, seen as one of 2014’s most vulnerable Democrats, characterized his feelings.

Indeed, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used his reelection victory/unofficial presidential launch speech Tuesday to give his own take on leadership, which he said he hoped people in Washington were listening to — “much less about talking than it is about listening, about bringing people around the table listening to each other, showing them respect, doing what needed to be done to be able to bring people together and to achieve what we needed to achieve to move our state forward.”

Of course, Pryor and other Democrats chuckle that the same people who shut down the government are now complaining that Obama’s not doing a good job running that same government.

“This is like a guy who lives in the sewers trying to tell somebody else that they smell and need to take a shower,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Jesse Ferguson. “When poll after poll shows no one likes how this Republican Congress governs, the group that shut down government isn’t exactly credible messengers to take anyone else on about governing.”

In a different political environment, Obama might be able to take a more critical response to what’s gone wrong. But as White House aides know, Obama can’t fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius or other high-ranking officials for fear he’d never get successors confirmed. And they don’t want to go too far in admitting that the Republicans were right and they’re on the run on Obamacare.

They’re having enough trouble parsing what the GOP position on spying is, even aside from the difficulties of disentangling parts of an enormous intelligence apparatus that predates Obama’s arrival in the White House. And they’re faced with interlocking chaos in the Middle East — such as the use of chemical weapons in Syria and development of Iran’s nuclear program — that many would say would be beyond the capacity of any president to be able to control.

Senate Democrats have successfully detached their candidates from the president in past election cycles — look at Obama losing big in Missouri last year while Claire McCaskill won big, or Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Jon Tester in Montana edging out wins in states the president never competed in.

People like Pryor are hoping that will be true again next year.

“President Obama’s not on the ballot anymore,” he said.

Even if Obama is a big factor, raising the competence argument against him will boomerang for Republicans, predicted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who’s also up for reelection next year.

“The last I looked, it wasn’t the president who threatened to default on the country and shut down the government and cost this economy $24 billion and increase borrowing costs for everybody in the country,” Shaheen said. “So I think it’s going to be a hard argument to make as long as they’ve got people out there who don’t want government to work, who do everything they can to obstruct any appointments, any legislation to get done, who still haven’t passed the farm bill.”

The White House has made assurances that the website will be fixed and points out that the technological problems don’t take away from the improvements they’ve made to the insurance system which, if the traffic on the site shows nothing else, was clearly in demand. There’s a review under way to settle the NSA questions. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, wrapped up a week in the Middle East with a surprise stop in Geneva to join the Iran nuclear talks.

But whether or not the problems are resolved, Democrats say they’re paying less attention to any Republican claims, even if they do for the moment happen to match up to legitimate problems they acknowledge with the Obamacare rollout.

“They don’t feel obliged to be consistent intellectually in their attacks. If everything were going fine with the website, they would find a new angle of attack. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “They were going to churn up as much in the way of criticism and negativity about this president until the end of his term, no matter what’s happening.”