“We’ve spent two point five trillion dollars over the term…in office, my term. That’s over three and a half years two point five… think of that, two point five trillion. I took over a depleted military, old equipment, broken equipment, even in the Army, all brand new uniforms with the belt… everyone wanted the belt.” — Donald Trump, October 8, 2020

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January 5, 2021

As Donald Trump prepares for his second Inaugural Address, we thought it worth looking back on the speech that we now know turned the tide in his re-election campaign, what has become the famous “Everyone Wanted the Belt” speech, in which President Trump made his case to voters by touting his support for America’s armed forces. Please enjoy this oral history of the most important moment of the 2020 Presidential Campaign.

Mark Meadows (Chief of Staff): There’s a moment in every presidency when a president is tested — no, a different kind of test — and they have to step up and lead. Honestly, I think the “Everyone Wanted the Belt” address is going to go down with the great speeches in history — the Gettysburg Address, Reagan telling Gorbachev to tear down the wall, George W. Bush after 9/11. I think it even rivals President Trump calling into Maria Bartiromo’s show earlier that same day. Yes, even that.

Daniel Dale (CNN fact-checker): For once, Donald Trump did say something that was true. The new Army dress uniforms that he was referring to did have an objectively attractive belt.

Judd Deere (Trump spokesperson): When you have a thoroughbred communicator like President Trump, you let them run, but that doesn’t mean you don’t spend a lot of time working on and honing the message. We’re definitely professionals not acting at the whim of an erratic monster. We crafted that speech within an inch of its life.

Sean Hannity (former TV host, now Vice President of the United States): When I saw that video, it was like I was shot through with electricity. You’ve got to remember the context. Pence had just shit the bed at the debate by not killing that fly and letting Kamala Harris exist as a woman that could be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Plus, Biden’s lead was in the double digits. Something had to shift the race, and I just knew this was the moment. We went up with our first “Beltghazigate” package on Hannity that night.

Chuck Todd (host, Meet the Press): What you saw was the Biden campaign getting just caught totally flatfooted on Beltghazigate. I think at first it was because no one knew what President Trump was talking about and it was only being circulated on the right. Still, when I asked Joe Biden why the Obama/Biden administration hadn’t addressed the belt issue over their eight years in office, and he didn’t have a good answer, you could tell this thing was going to have legs.

Michael Beschloss (presidential historian): It’s like everyone in the country has collectively lost their minds and I am the only sane person left. Am I dreaming? Can I not wake up? Am I dead? What if I’ve been dead this whole time? Help me, please help me!

A post-election analysis of media coverage following the “Everyone Wanted the Belt” address shows that between the speech and the election, mentions of Beltghazigate were higher than issues like the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice, the economy, and climate change combined.

Stephen Miller ((former aide/speechwriter, current Acting Secretary of State, Defense, and Homeland Security)): Only Donald Trump knows the rhythms of Donald Trump, but over time, you get it and it’s easier to write for him. I mean, look at the brilliance of that opening line, “We’ve spent two and a half-trillion dollars over the term… in office, my term.” At first, you’re thinking, what the heck is he talking about, two point five trillion on what? But that’s the mastery. He has you wondering exactly what we’ve spent two point five trillion on and you’re at the edge of your seat. Amazing.

Nate Silver (polling analyst, FiveThirtyEight): At the time of the “Everyone Wanted the Belt” address, FiveThirtyEight had Trump with a seventeen percent chance of victory, which was actually higher than many others, and by Election Day, we knew it was a toss-up. Post-election polling showed that people who made up their minds in the last week were really focused on what kind of belts the Army used on their dress uniforms.

Hope Hicks (Trump communications staffer): Speaking as someone whose lungs looked like ground glass from COVID-related pneumonia at the time of the speech, you have to appreciate writing in that pause at “over the term [pause] in office, my term,” so the President could take a breath without looking like he’s gasping for air.

Michael Beschloss (presidential historian): Is it like that movie, the one with Keanu Reeves and the karate… The Matrix? Am I experiencing a delusion while, in reality, I’m suspended in a liquid pod being used as a bioenergy source by sentient artificial intelligence that’s enslaved the entire human race?

Bill Stepien (Trump campaign manager): Worried? No. We knew we had momentum from the photoshoot from the balcony when he returned to the White House from Walter Reed, and the first video when he thanked God for giving him COVID and demonstrated his superhuman stamina and prowess. He was already connecting with his Evangelical base, and we had a hunch this would expand his appeal to the folks he definitely never called losers.

Max Miller (deputy campaign manager): Also, you’ve gotta remember that he still had six days left on the Dexamethasone. Every campaign needs a little luck and that was ours.

Michael Beschloss (presidential historian): Please kill me.