At the first Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday night (Aug. 23), the first question posed to eight hopeful candidates for commander in chief was about the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100.
“As we sit here tonight, the No. 1 song on the Billboard chart is ‘Rich Men North of Richmond,’” Fox News host Martha MacCallum said as the crowd at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum erupted in cheers. “It’s by a singer from Farmville, Virginia, named Oliver Anthony. His lyrics speak of alienation, of deep frustration with the state of government and of this country. Washington, D.C., is about 100 miles north of Richmond.”
A 30-second clip of Anthony’s viral hit — which debuts atop the Hot 100 this week, despite the artist never having any previous Billboard chart history — played next, including the unedited line “‘Cause your dollar ain’t sh– and it’s taxed to no end/ ‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond.”
MacCallum posed the first question to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking: “Why is this song striking such a nerve in this country right now? What do you think it means?”
DeSantis — who’s been referencing Anthony’s song in recent campaign speeches — responded by saying voters “need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline” and that “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.” He directly addressed the song while taking aim at government spending too, saying: “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 song, billed to Oliver Anthony Music, has especially struck a chord with a conservative audience, with right-wing pundits immediately embracing its lyrical take-down of the rich and powerful, so it makes sense that Fox News would harness its popularity at the first Republican debate leading up to the 2024 presidential election.
In addition to DeSantis, the night’s debate stage included former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Watch the moment here: