WASHINGTON — In making the case for his re-election, President Barack Obama is arguing that it doesn't matter who the Republicans nominate to run against him because the core philosophy of the GOP candidates is the same and will stand in sharp relief with his own.
The president laid out an argument for a second term in a wide ranging interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday, bluntly saying that if voters believe in the Republican agenda of lower taxes, including for the wealthy, and weaker regulations then he will lose.
"I don't think that's where the American people are going to go," he added, "because I don't think the American people believe that based on what they've seen before, that's going to work."
For some time, Democrats and Obama allies have been anticipating that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will ultimately win the Republican nomination. But with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich atop many polls now, Democrats have begun to train their fire on him.
Obama argued that the two Republicans represent the same fundamental set of beliefs.
"The contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what ... where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark," he said. "And the American people are going to have a good choice and it's going to be a good debate."
He rejected questioner Steve Kroft's suggestion that the public was judging him on his performance as president. "I'm being judged against the ideal," he said. "Joe Biden has a good expression. He says, `Don't judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.'"
Obama predicted the fight to the Republican nomination won't be resolved quickly. "I think that they will be going at it for a while," he said.
He described both of the top GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, as political fixtures.
Of Gingrich he said: "He's somebody who's been around a long time, and is good on TV, is good in debates."
"But Mitt Romney has shown himself to be somebody who's ... who's good at politics, as well," he said. "He's had a lot of practice at it."
Obama is counting on voters giving him credit for avoiding a second Great Depression, bailing out the auto industry and passing a signature health care law even while acknowledging that the public is hardly satisfied with the direction of the country.
He also listed such achievements as ending the Pentagon's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for gay service members and the elimination of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaida leaders.
"But when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do," he conceded.
He rejected Republican criticism that his economic policies amount to class warfare, saying he is simply trying to restore an "American deal" that focuses on building a strong middle class.
In a major speech in Osawatomie, Kan., this week, Obama argued that even before the recent recession hit, Americans at the top of the income scale grew wealthier while others struggled and racked up debt. He also has called for spending on jobs initiatives and for an extension of a payroll tax cut that would be paid for by increasing taxes on taxpayers who make $1 million or more.
"There are going to be people who say, `This is the socialist Obama and he's come out of the closet,'" Obama said.
But he added: "The problem is that our politics has gotten to the point, where we can't have an honest conversation about the greatest income inequality since the 1920s. And we can't have an honest conversation about the irresponsibility that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, without somebody saying that somehow we're being divisive."