The opening question of the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle centered on President Joe Biden’s economic policies and gave the would-be GOP nominees a moment of unity in their opposition to the Democratic incumbent.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked by moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum about polls showing roughly two-thirds of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. They noted that discontent has manifested itself in the song “Rich Men North of Richmond” – a song critical of those in power in Washington, D.C. – reaching the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.”
“Our country is in decline. This decline is not inevitable. It’s a choice. We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline. And it starts with understanding we must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again,” DeSantis said.
“We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and you can’t afford groceries, a car or a new home while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings. That is wrong,” he added. “We also cannot succeed when the Congress spends trillions and trillions of dollars. Those ‘rich men north of Richmond’ have put us in this situation.”
The moderators then posed the question to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and asked whether he agreed with DeSantis and why he would do better. Christie responded that while he would predominantly agree, “The difference is that we’re going to have to work and make sure that we sell these ideas and we are able to put ourselves in a position where we get a majority of the vote.”
Christie pointed to his two terms of experience at the helm of the Garden State, which last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in a general election in 1988 when Vice President George H.W. Bush carried the state with over 56% of the vote.
“Now, I was elected as a conservative Republican in a blue state with 61% of the vote with a Democrat legislature against me the entire time. And we still, through hard, strong decision-making, brought them around to our point of view. We cut taxes in New Jersey, we cut debt in New Jersey,” Christie said.
The U.S. economy has been struggling with inflation over the last two years, which hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in June 2022 and prompted the Federal Reserve to start a campaign of interest rate hikes aimed at tamping down the soaring consumer prices.
Policymakers at the Fed have raised the benchmark federal funds rate 11 times since the central bank began tightening in March 2022, reaching a 22-year high after the most recent rate hike in July.
While inflation has come down from the highs of 2022, it remained at 3.2% in July – well over the Fed’s 2% target. Food and energy prices in particular remained stubbornly high for consumers.
The higher interest rates needed to tame inflation can have a negative impact on the housing market, as mortgage rates are influenced by the Fed’s actions. Mortgage rates are at their highest level since 2000, while demand dipped to its lowest level since 1995, according to data published by the Mortgage Bankers Association on Wednesday.
Higher interest rates also mean increased costs for the federal government when it comes time to service the more than $32 trillion national debt. Interest payments on the debt are the fastest-growing portion of the federal budget, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Interest payments on the national debt totaled $475 billion in fiscal year 2022 and are projected to rise to $1.4 trillion in 2032. By 2053, interest payments are expected to surge to $5.4 trillion – more than the U.S. government spends on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense.
FOX Business’ Megan Henney contributed to this report.