WHEN THE MESSAGE REACHES THE INTENDED AUDIENCE…. Michael Tomasky makes the case this week that when President Obama reached out to Republicans during the debate over economic stimulus, the minority party wasn’t the intended audience.

The standard criticism of Obama’s bipartisan outreach goes like this. He met with Republicans on Capitol Hill. They stiffed him. They showed that they’re impossibly troglodytic. Why should he waste any more time on these people? Just crush them.

But here’s the thing. This criticism, and this entire debate about the efficacy of his bipartisan overtures, presumes that Obama’s audience for his bipartisan talk is the Republicans in Congress and the conservatives in Washington.

But that is not his intended audience. His audience is the country.

True, he went to see congressional Republicans in an attempt to fire up the peace pipe. Well, as Barry Goldwater famously said, you have to go to hunting where the ducks are. But I think that even those meetings were conducted only partially for the benefit of those Republicans. They were conducted for citizens, so they could see that he was trying something different.

Kevin finds this more persuasive than I do, arguing that the efforts at bipartisanship were “almost entirely about optics,” allowing the president to “bask in warm national glow of having tried his best.”

But putting aside whether this was the deliberate strategy the White House had in mind, if it was the goal, did it have the desired effect? Apparently, yes.

A national AP poll (pdf) released yesterday found that 62% of Americans believe the president is doing enough to reach out to congressional Republicans. In contrast, the same poll found that only 27% of the public believes the GOP is doing to enough to cooperate with Obama. (On a related note, congressional Democrats enjoy a 49% approval rating; for congressional Republicans, it’s 33%.)

Even Fox News’ latest poll (pdf) showed similar results. Asked if the president “has sincerely tried to reach out to Republicans and be bipartisan,” 66% of respondents said he has. Asked the same of Republicans, only 33% agreed. (The same poll found congressional Democrats with a 46% approval rating, 12 points higher than the GOP’s 34%.)

If the intended audience is the electorate, the White House is probably pleased. And if congressional Republicans think they’re finally scoring points (“Back in the Saddle”) with their tactics, they’re mistaken.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.