For months, GOP presidential candidates have used President Barack Obama as a punching bag in an effort to jockey for the spotlight and attempt to break out of the pack. Observers of the GOP race can tell you the narrative this has built in the countless Republican forums, debates, and events, is that Obama has spent his time in office pursuing socialism, apologizing for the United States around the world, weakening our military, killing jobs, and demonizing free enterprise and the wealthy.
At a campaign event in South Carolina, GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reiterated part of that message.
"Our president has divided the nation, engaged in class warfare, and attacked a free enterprise system that has made America the economic envy of the world," he said.
In discussing tax reforms, which has been a hot topic of late both in Congress and on the campaign trail, Obama reiterated his call to increase taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
"Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense," he said in his State of the Union address before members of Congress.
"We don't begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it," he added, striking at one of the oft-used GOP charges against his proposal. "When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it's not because they envy the rich. It's because they understand that when I get a tax break I don't need and the country can't afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another GOP presidential candidate, also levied "class warfare" and "socialism" charges against Obama.
"You know, the fact is, class warfare kills jobs, bureaucratic socialism kills jobs—he believes deeply in both," Gingrich said, referring to the president on Fox News last summer.
Obama used Tuesday's speech to defend his oft-criticized financial, environmental, and healthcare regulation legislation.
"Rules to prevent financial fraud or toxic dumping or faulty medical devices--these don't destroy the free market. They make the free market work better," he said. "I'm a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more."
And on some of the topics that get the most applause at GOP presidential rallies, Obama denied the claims that he's an American apologist, weak on Iran, and not supportive enough of Israel.
"Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran's nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent," he said. "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."
He added that American global leadership has been renewed and emphasized the country's relationship with Israel.
"Our ironclad commitment--and I mean ironclad--to Israel's security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history," he said.
America is back, he declared, and "anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about."
And while it's unclear which side is making the most believable argument to the American people, there's no doubt about what's at stake--the presidency in 2012.