The President of the United States. Originally intended as a Recurring Character, the writers rewrote the role after Martin Sheen's performance and he essentially became the protagonist. Bartlet started as a dark horse candidate who entered the race to keep the other Democratic contenders honest and wound up in the Oval Office. He's a very decent man who values his staff like family and sincerely tries to make the best decisions for the country; when these fail or come with a human cost, he's troubled deeply. He deliberately concealed that he has multiple sclerosis; in spite of the scandal this causes, he wins a second term. He holds a Nobel Prize in economics and is a devout Catholic.
His inability to remember the names of several White House staffers is Played for Laughs. Later, it results in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when, during the final episode, he thanks each of the staffers personally on his way out of the White House, and remembers each of their names correctly this time.
Doubles as an Actor Allusion, as Martin Sheen himself is awful with names.
Badass Boast: "Now, I have a Nobel Prize in economics, and I'm telling you guys, you have no clue what you're talking about". He then goes on to threaten the two warring parties, employees and employers of the trucking industry: The former with a forced enlistment of every employee to the US army and the latter with a nationalization of the entire trucking industry. "You have 47 minutes, gentlemen", indeed.
Badass Bookworm: He is really into science, history, and various other areas of knowledge.
Badass Grandpa: He's not grey-haired, but he does have a granddaughter.
Benevolent Boss: He cares a great deal about his staffers and never asks for a resignation in spite of the many times they screw up barring his need to fire Toby in Season 7.
And for the love of God, don't involve his daughters in politics.
To a lesser extent, using the Bible to justify acts of violence or hatred. Bartlet is a devout Catholic and a very smart man (He's fluent in Latin!) so, as seen in the Pilot Episode and in the episode "The Midterms", he gets particularly frosty when people use scripture to justify bigotry.
Blood from the Mouth: In the Presidential limo after Rosslyn. This is the first sign that he's been shot himself; he was otherwise in high outrage over Butterfield's insistence on getting him to the White House despite Butterfield being shot in the hand.
But I Play One on TV: After the first season, people around Hollywood started treating Martin Sheen like he was the President for real.
There's a meta example in "Noel." Sorkin notes in the commentary track that they had to keep redoing the aftermath of Josh blowing up from PTSD because Martin Sheen kept trying to have Bartlet help him.
The Chessmaster: He literally plays chess like a master, but also pulls off some ingenious moves against China, India, Qumar, and his political opponents.
A Father to His Men: In regards to the military specifically, particularly when talking to a sailor on a hurricane-rocked ship which, sadly, is revealed later to go down with all hands. Later, he insists on knowing what coats are going to be worn by American troops in Kazakhstan and responds to the stares by pointing out that they will be going there in winter, possibly for a long time, between two armies who know quite well how to deal with the regional conditions, after America's last two major conflicts have been in Africa and the Middle East—so yes, he does think it is important to know what kind of coats his troops will have.
Good Is Not Soft: He's the President, not Santa Claus. Bartlet isn't above secrecy or ordering assassinations if it's for the greater good. Despite his warm, fatherly demeanor, he does not take kindly to insubordination; more than one advisor has been abruptly let go (or in Toby's case, arrested for treason—although he was pardoned) for disobeying him.
Like an Old Married Couple: With Leo. Thoroughly lampshaded when they wind up having a candelit dinner (a French chef's in town and Abby isn't) and Bartlet complains that "we never talk anymore" while Leo is on his cellphone.
My God, What Have I Done?: He blames himself for Leo's first heart attack, since it happened right after a disagreement that ended in Leo's firing. Abbey assures him that it isn't—it would have happened regardless.
He explicitly refers to Josh as "my son" in "Two Cathedrals" when questioning the Almighty why Josh was injured in a shooting.
Made even more poignant when, after a flashback scene, the audience learns that Josh's own dad died of cancer just as Bartlet's election season was heating up and was steamrolling towards victory. So Bartlet on his own decided to be the one to step in and give Josh praise and guidance when it was due in his place.
Team Dad: He's occasionally overprotective, often proud of his subordinates, and everyone wants to avoid disappointing him.
Amusingly, in interviews, John Spencer always said that he was actually the Team Dad, which would make Bartlet the Team Mom, while Martin Sheen said it the other way around.
"Well Done, Son!" Guy: Jed keeps trying to win his father's approval, despite the fact that his dad is dead and was a Jerkass of a father. Toby thinks it's hurting his Presidency.
What the Hell, Hero?: Bartlet's decision to hide his MS, as well as his reaction to the implications of doing so, culminating in a showdown between Toby and Bartlet in the Oval Office.
To a lesser extent, his treatment of Hoynes, particularly in the first season's cabinet meeting. In the third season, it's revealed that Hoynes let Bartlet stand as the nominee by keeping Bartlet's MS a secret, making Bartlet's behaviour even more egregious.
Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer)
Leo is one of Bartlet's oldest friends and the man who convinced him to run in the first place. He's an experienced political operator, having been Labor Secretary in a previous administration, and served in Vietnam; in fact many think that he could have run himself if he didn't have a history of alcoholism and painkiller addiction. He often acts as a moderator on Bartlet's impulses and the experienced man in the Sit Room.
The Conscience: Made particularly clear in the season 6 episode "365 Days," when Leo returns after recovering from his heart attack and calls everyone out for trying to play it safe during the last year in office.
Cool and Unusual Punishment: He once threatens to hide a bunch of snakes in C.J.'s car over a strange photo-op she scheduled for the President.
"You'll never know how many there are or if you got them all out!"
A Fatherto His Men: While Jed has a father/child relationship with just about everybody on the staff, Leo's is rather singularly targeted to Josh, who in a vast number of ways rather exactly follows in Leo's foot steps.
Genre Savvy: Whenever a military operation doesn't go as planned, Leo realizes just how badly it went wrong a moment before Jed does. Of course, he is former-military.
My God, What Have I Done?: Several decades late. When debating on whether or not the US should sign a war crimes treaty, Leo's Admiral friend in the Navy bluntly informs him that one of Leo's bombing runs in Vietnam had actually been against a civilian target, thus putting him at risk of prosecution should the treaty be signed. Leo, who had always thought he only attacked military targets, is horrified.
Leo: Why did you tell me that?
Admiral: Because you'd be charged and tried for a war crime.
The Spock: If a cold decision needs to be made or a justification for one given, it will fall to Leo.
He even applies this to himself early on in the spirit of "the needs of the many," where he tries to talk Bartlet and the staff into not rigorously defending him, allowing him to resign, etc. when his previous painkiller addiction is outed.
Team Mom: He looks out for the well-being of the staffers and is the one who most often tells them to knock it off when they're misbehaving. Amusingly, in interviews, John Spencer always said that he was actually the Team Dad Bartlet was the Team Mom, while Martin Sheen said it the other way around.
What Could Have Been: Other characters of the series (Josh and even Bartlet in flashbacks) imply that Leo could have run for President himself - impressive military and public record - if not for his alcoholism.
Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)
Leo's Number Two, "the guy The Guy counts on." Josh is young, confident to the point of arrogance at times, and relentless in pursuing the Bartlet agenda with Congress. Sometimes this has great results and sometimes this backfires terribly. Leo is like a father to him. Josh eventually leaves the White House to run Matthew Santos as a dark horse candidate for President.
Afraid of Blood: Hearing graphic descriptions of surgical procedures makes him feel physically ill.
Badass: nicknamed "Rambo" for the nerve of his attacks. He once sent a dead fish to the office of a Senator being difficult on some legislation about fishing rights.
And as a nod to the inspiration for his character, Rahm Emanuel, who is nicknamed "Rahmbo".
The Big Guy: Shares this role with CJ. She's The Enforcer, he's the attack dog.
Breakout Character: Though it started in Season 2, by the final seasons it became pretty much The Josh Lyman Show, with everyone else featured in only about half the episodes and the lame-duck Bartlet Administration itself taking a backseat to Josh's quest to pass the torch.
Can Not Spit It Out: He can't ask women out properly, which Donna points out in relation to Joey Lucas and Toby in relation to Amy.
Can't Hold His Liquor: There's one notable incident in Season 1 where Donna finds him in his office disgustingly hung-over.
Dogged Nice Guy: A non-romantic version with him and Matt Santos. Santos wants out of politics now that he's seen how frustrating and dirty it is. Josh continually pleads with him not to go, and then manages to convince him to run for President—even showing up at Santos' house in Texas once On Christmas, no less.
Establishing Character Moment: In the pilot episode, pretty much everyone thinks he's going to be fired for shooting his mouth off and offending many Christians on a TV appearance. This is one of many times that Josh's competitive streak combines with snark in bad ways for his boss.
His first appearance in the pilot is him asleep at his desk, waking up to the sound of his beeper going off.
Expy: A brilliant young lawyer who isn't afraid to be ruthless and pragmatic. Issues with his father, an incredibly sarcastic personality, a tendency to act without thinking, a far more relaxed approach to work than His colleagues, Idealistic underneath a cynical facade and an equally smart, attractive female co worker with a potential relationship. You could be forgiven for mistaking Josh for Tom Cruise's character Danny Kaffee from the Sorkin penned A Few Good Men.
Very forgiven, given that Bradley Whitford made his Broadway debut in the role of Jack Ross in the same play. His second Broadway role occured a couple months into the theatrical run when he switched characters to, that's right, Danny Kaffee.
Guilt Complex: A massive unjustified one due to the number of bad things that have happened to friends and loved ones.
Heroic BSOD: Josh goes through more breakdowns, and Freak Outs than the rest of the cast combined, complete with developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder courtesy of his Cynicism Catalyst and the shooting.
Honest Advisor: As Leo's own Number Two and someone who regularly staffs the President. He's unafraid to argue his positions to Bartlet.
Honor Before Reason: Once Josh starts running Santos' campaign, Bartlet calls him up to suggest Santos go after Bartlet's gubernatorial record. Josh dutifully writes the numbers down and then sets them on fire.
Hot-Blooded: He gets very worked up, very easily. Oftentimes this leads to him insulting whoever he's trying to negotiate with.
Informed Ability: For a supposed political genius, he sure screws up a lot politically, starting with the pilot episode. Bartlet even points this out during one of these screw-ups. By the end of the third season, Josh has been fired (Leo talks Bartlet down), responsible for a catastrophic campaign screw up (the finale of the second and start of the third season), and finally told by the President of the United States that the White House's best move would be to fire Josh and hire his girlfriend in his place.
It's hinted that Josh has great instincts but gets too far ahead of himself. His crowning moment is when during the Santos campaign when he controls his urges to jump on the nuclear reactor accident. Bruno expected Josh to overplay the incident, but Santos does nothing publicly per Josh's orders, and it ends up making Vinick look bad.
It's also Josh who encourages Bartlet to ride and then walk to Congress during the shutdown stand-off, and then leave after waiting for the Speaker Haffley to let them in. Within minutes, Josh helped Bartlet look good and Congress bad, forcing Haffley to finally make a deal and end the shutdown.
Manipulative Bastard: They're all politicians, but Josh is the most underhanded when it comes to getting what he wants. Josh notes this early in the first season when telling a congressman, "President Bartlet's a good man. He's got a good heart. He doesn't hold a grudge. That's what he pays me for."
Master of the Mixed Message: One moment he's rushing across the Atlantic ocean to be by Donna's side, the next he's treating her as just another employee.
OOC Is Serious Business: Josh completely flips his lid at Bartlet in "Noel" for not taking his advice on a relatively minor matter. Although "Josh flips his lid" is not unknown to happen, the fact that he does it to the President in the Oval Office is a serious signal to the characters present that Josh is not himself, as a capstone to all of the other irrational behavior he'd been displaying as a result of undiagnosed PTSD.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: Most of his relationships involve a lot of contention and argument.
Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Not at God, but at the Capitol Building after he makes a huge mistake and gets put in the doghouse in a big way.note Of course, a smiting bill would take ages to get through committee and wouldn't even be about smiting by the time of the vote.
The Spock: While not as much as Leo, he's definitely colder, more calculating and more ruthless than others in getting stuff done.
Stepford Smiler: At times, but especially when he's in the midst of a gradual breakdown from PTSD.
Stepford Snarker: Particularly evident when he talks to Stanley the trauma therapist, who calls him out immediately.
Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff)
Toby is Bartlet's head speechwriter. His most prominent quality is his irascibility (he doesn't say good morning, he "growls something inaudible"). At any given point in an episode, you can usually count on him to be mad at Congress, a Federal agency, other people in the West Wing, and sometimes even Bartlet himself. This is because Toby is actually one of the most idealistic people in the West Wing—he believes that the Administration can do an incredible amount of good and is disappointed whenever they compromise.
Amicably Divorced: So much so that he impregnates his ex-wife. He also continues to wear a wedding band.
The wedding band was an example of Throw It In. When Sorkin first told Schiff that he didn't think Toby was married, Schiff said that no he wasn't, and it was Sorkin's job to find out why he still wore the ring.
Bad Boss: Not so much "bad" as he has extremely high standards and a short temper that makes him difficult to work for even if you do live up to them.
The Eeyore: His ex-wife cites this as the reason why she divorced him, and why she can't marry him again. He is deeply disturbed by it.
Grumpy Bear: Subverted; Toby's grouchiness comes from being even more idealistic than everyone around him and constantly being let down by the universe.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Right from the first episode, he tears into the representatives from the Christian Right after spending a lot of time telling Josh to be meek and apologetic (which Josh points out after the fact).
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Abrasive as he may be most of the time, he will stick up for his friends and has genuine sympathy for people—meeting a worried stranger in a bar after a long, frustrating day prompts him to come up with a plan to make college tuition tax-deductible. And he and Josh call the guy up later to talk to him about it, after they're both home.
Martyr Without a Cause: Bartlet accuses him of this, though it's left ambiguous whether the President is merely speaking from a bruised ego. After numerous attempts to resign, Toby turns in his papers for the last time.
The McCoy: He's the one who most believes in the power of the Government to be a source for good.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Near the end of the series, he leaks the existence of a military shuttle—a serious federal offense— because he thinks Bartlet is dithering on using it to rescue astronauts from the crippled space statione. He later admits that he also wanted to start a conversation about the militarization of space, which he personally opposes.
The Smart Guy: I mean, they're all smart, but Toby's intellect is shown to be the only one that rivals the President's.
The Snark Knight: There are a number of Youtube montages dedicated to Toby's best lines. And noises.
Sugar and Ice Personality: He may be gruff, sarcastic, and bad-tempered, but when a homeless serviceman dies wearing a coat that Toby had donated to charity, he pulls out all the stops to find his next-of-kin and arrange a proper military funeral.
Troll: If he doesn't think he needs you or if you mess with Sesame Street, he'll really screw with you. Partly to win and partly for laughs.
The public face of the Bartlet Administration. She frequently clashes with the other senior staff members over what the public does and does not need to know. She has to walk a fine line between keeping the country informed and protecting the Administration's interests; on a few occassions, the other staffers have deliberately concealed things from her to her outrage. C.J. is very good at dealing with the press and finding the best way to angle the story.
Berserk Button: Institutionalised mistreatment of women, as seen in "The Women Of Qumar" and "Enemies Foreign And Domestic"
Played straight in some episodes. "The Women of Qumar" as one example.
Dating Catwoman: She falls in love with White House reporter Danny Concannon, but since his job is finding out the things the Administration doesn't want the public to know, and her job is to keep that information secret at all costs... well, you can imagine how that goes. It ends happily: she leaves the White House at the end of Season 7 with Danny for L.A, and they wind up married with a child.
Guile Hero: During the MS investigation, she deliberately provokes the House Republicans into setting up an investigative committee because it will be better politically to be investigated by people who obviously and publicly hate the President, so that their case will be appear (and actually be) less credible—rather than the special prosecutor, who is respected by both parties for being fair-minded and just.
Gretzky Has the Ball: Sometimes this is for real, and sometimes she's just getting a rise out of her sports-fan colleagues.
The Lad-ette: Frequently seen to share a beer with the guys and waits impatiently to be invited to their Thanksgiving football day in one episode.
Mama Bear: Towards the White House Staff, of course, but also towards the press corps. She secretly adores them and will move mountains to protect them (often from themselves). As former Press Secretary Tony Snow (under the second President Bush) said, their relationship is adversarial, not antagonistic. They're on different sides of the same side.
Manipulative Bastard: Towards the press corps (and the entire political community); but never towards her colleagues.
Nerves of Steel: As seen by Josh and Toby's disastrous performances, this is a requirement for standing in front of the White House Press Corps every day.
Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe)
Sam Seaborn was originally envisioned as the protagonist of the show until Martin Sheen upstaged absolutely everyone. Sam is intelligent but sometimes dangerously idealistic. Rather than grumping like Toby, Sam tends to jump into situations without thinking for his principles. However, he is a very skilled wordsmith and lawyer. His role dwindled until Rob Lowe left in Season 4. He is Toby's Number Two.
Gone Horribly Right: He arranged the purchase of an antiquated oil tanker for a major oil company, securing his partnership at a major law firm, but after realizing the low cost of the ship is due to the fact that it lacks modern technology and will eventually crash (causing an environmental disaster) and fails to convince the execs that a better ship is better than a liability shield. It seems like a flashback to explain why he joined Bartlet, but it's also a Chekhov's Gun—the oil tanker crashes in season 2, and Sam knows that there's no way to sue the company because the liability shield he crafted was too good.
This is also how he joined Bartlet in the first place. Josh visited him on the day where Sam realized that moving up in his law firm meant being the worst kind of lawyer.
Kid-Appeal Character: You know, for a show about White House staffers where most people are at least in their twenties.
The Klutz: In one instance, his teleprompter draft of a speech includes the words "the country is strangernote stronger than a year ago and puts a # in the middle of another word, prompting Bartlet to ask "is the pound sign silent?"
Earlier, he's given the job of leading a tour of a third grade around the West Wing containing Leo's daughter, wherein he shows himself to be massively unqualified (for instance, he doesn't realize the Roosevelt Room is named after Teddy Roosevelt, despite there being a gigantic portrait of TR in the room). When the teacher of the class calls him out on it, he snaps at her, revealing several embarrassing things about himself, including the whole "slept with a callgirl" thing, then exasperated, asks her to point out Leo's daughter so that he can at least try to impress her. The teacher then reveals that SHE's Leo's daughter Mallory, and that she's not impressed
Physically, as well: he bangs a shin on a box while going to a meeting at 5AM (but keeps going) and is shown falling out of bed to answer his phone.
"I heard a 'clang' and an 'ow', and figured it must be Sam Seaborn."
And when surprised by Mallory, he throws a champagne flute into the trash.
Legacy Character: Bartlet predicts that Sam will be President some day. Subverted by Sam's failed campaign for congressman. He ends up right back where he started, although he's hardly eking out a living as a laywer—when Josh asks that he return to politics, Sam says that his current salary would make Josh vomit. (Nevertheless, writing a fanfic where Sam doesn't become President is tantamount to heresy.)
The McCoy: Even in a cast of idealism, Sam reigns supreme.
Put on a Bus: Due to Rob Lowe leaving the series. He's written out via a failed congressional bid.
The Bus Came Back: Josh wrangles him back in to be his deputy chief of staff in the forming Santos administration... but Sam holds Josh's dire need (but not want) to go on a vacation to unravel after a harrowing campaign for Santos as a condition after Josh explodes on a subordinate over something inane.
Skilled, but Na´ve: It may be part of his idealism. In season one, he's well aware of the fact that his meetings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell are worthless time-wasters, and despite backing the President in 100,000 Airplanes and writing the draft text, he does tell Bartlet that they can't use the idea and the material in the speech. He's also the one who encourages Bartlet to order the release of a drug lord in order to secure the safety of American prisoners, pointing out that the hostages were taken while the drug lord was in jail, making the difference between releasing him and continuing to have him held in a Colombian jail utterly pointless.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: He can be somewhat easily manipulated by political opponents, and he always takes it hard when something or someone he admired is shown to be flawed.
Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff Donna Moss (Janel Moloney)
Josh's secretary. Originally a bit part, like the other assistants, but the chemistry between the two actors turned her into a regular. She started as quirky and naive, often asking Josh things about government workings so he could explain it to the audience. Over the course of the series, she became savvy and self-confident to the point where people wondered why she was still working for Josh.
Canada, Eh?: It is discovered by everyone (including her) that she's technically Canadian thanks to a border clarification shifting her hometown from Minnesota to Manitoba. She immediately becomes concerned over all of the times she's made fun of the queen-saying "we don't do that sort of thing"
Crazy-Prepared: As Josh's subordinate, she takes pains to be ready for whatever bizarre situation he lands himself in.
Dating Catwoman: During the MS scandal she dated the republican in charge of the investigation.
Servile Snarker: In one episode she has to get a big lunch order for Josh and he doesn't take his stuff during the walk-and-talk, so she proclaims "No no, I'll carry it!" in a sarcastically chipper way.
Took a Level in Badass: She started her career as a country girl fresh off the bus, by the end of the series, she's spent years as gatekeeper for one of the most powerful men in Washington, which (as is pointed out by someone who tries to hire her away from him) was a graduate-level course in power politics. In the end, she becomes Chief of Staff for the new First Lady.
The Watson: Josh (and sometimes other staffers) explain why they're handling issues a certain way or what bureaucracy requires, largely for the benefit of the audience.
Personal Aide to the President Charlie Young (DulÚ Hill)
Charlie applied for a job as a White House messenger to support himself and his little sister and was hired as Bartlet's bodyman instead. It didn't take long for them to form a father-son relationship. He doesn't usually participate directly in the political shenanigans, but he's very protective of Bartlet.
Badass: Do not underestimate this young man, intellectually or physically. He can outsnark the President, outprank the Press Secretary, and once overpowered several Secret Service agents holding him during a lockdown the instant he thought the President was in trouble.
Berserk Button: Do not disrespect any of the people who work in the White House in front of him. Just don't. Disagree with them respectfully, fine. Denigrate them, and he'll throw you into a wall and explain in no uncertain terms that they deserve your respect because of the stress and challenge of their position, if for no other reason. And you really, really don't want him to hear you calling C.J. Craig a bitch.
Heroic Safe Mode: He becomes very distant after learning the shooting at Rosslyn was not aimed at the President but at him, because he was dating Zoe. He comes out of it at the end of "The Midterms."
Hidden Depths: Would you believe he's The Prankster and a Badass? Not to mention that he often spots minute details that are the key to a critical problem way before any of the other staff (who are pretty much geniuses themselves) do.
Case in point, in his debut when he deduces the location of the President's missing glasses, and figuring out that that the President lied about his MS on a medical report for his daughter's college application, and thus grounds for impeachment. He manages to do this when i) he had not been told of the President's conditionnote He had only been told by Zoe to keep an eye out for symptoms, not what specific disease the President had, and ii) he had not been told there was going to be investigation!note Only that the President and Leo were meeting with White House lawyers. Charlie may just be the smartest guy on the team.
He got past the whole Secret Service Presidential Protective Detail to make sure the President was not in danger when shots were fired into the White House compound.
Bartlet: Charlie, My father gave this to me and his father gave it to him and now I am giving it to you. [hands Charlie a knife case] Take a look. The fully tapered bolster allows for sharpening the entire edge of the blade.
Charlie: It says 'PR'. I thought I knew them all but I don't know the manufacture.
Bartlet: Yea, these were made for my family by a Boston silversmith named Paul Revere. [beat] I'm proud of you, Charlie."
Married to the Job: He's told at the start that he'll be working a lot of really long days, and it does interfere with his social life, particularly his relationship with Zoe.
Promotion to Parent: His father abandoned the family and his mother, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty shortly before the series. Charlie finds a job instead of college so that he can take care of his little sister.
The Quiet One: He reacts to many situations and statements by facial expression only.
Rags to Royalty: Cinderella style. Granted, he remains poor throughout the series (one episode notes that he donates part of his paycheck to charity) but by the end of Bartlet's second term his resume is so impressive it's pretty clear that he's made it to the big leagues. Late in the final season it's mentioned that he's finally starting law school (part of a deal made with Bartlet in the first season).
Undying Loyalty: To Bartlet, and the White House in general to a lesser extent. He refuses legal immunity during the MS investigation despite the fact that he could be bankrupted, because he thinks that taking it would imply Bartlet's guilt.
As well, he is a complete Determinator in getting Debbie Fidderer hired as Bartlet's secretary despite both her and Bartlet's reluctance, because she is the one who recommended him for his job (and recommending him instead of some politician's kid got her fired).
Wrong Side of the Tracks: Comes from Southeast D.C. Doesn't hesitate for a second to kick some ass for the team when a fight starts.
First Lady of the United States Abigail "Abbey" Anne Barrington Bartlet (Stockard Channing)
Abbey is a brilliant doctor. She helped Jed to manage and conceal his multiple sclerosis during the campaign and got into ethical trouble for doing so. She and Jed love each other very much, but being married to the President is not easy and they clash more than once over various decisions of Jed's.
Demoted to Extra: In Season 7, where she no longer appears in the opening titles unless she appears in the episode. She's also absent for quite a while in Season 5 as she is in New Hampshire, helping Zoe recover from her abduction and blaming Jed for Zoe being a target.
Doctor's Orders: Frequently invoked, whether Jed has a bout of flu or is suffering an MS attack. It becomes a point of conflict later on when she thinks he's trying to do more than he's capable of.
Happily Married: Usually, although they have several notable fallings-out over the course of the show. Presidential marriages are not easy.
Heroic Sacrifice: She voluntarily gives up her medical license to ease the fallout from the MS scandal, in which she committed an ethics violation by medicating her husband. In season 5 she picks it up again to volunteer at a free clinic in Washington DC.
Insistent Terminology: In the second season, she decides she wants to be called Dr. Bartlet again, because it's pretty frustrating that she's "more appealing" as a Mrs. rather than a professional title that she earned.
Open Heart Dentistry: A mild case, probably not noticeable to most viewers. Her areas of expertise are internal medicine and thoracic surgery, but these fields require very different residencies and courses of study.
Secret Keeper: For the President's multiple sclerosis. She discloses it out of necessity when he is shot at Rosslyn.
She and Jed had a deal when he won the election: one term, because of his multiple sclerosis. She's very angry at him when he breaks it and retreats to their New Hampshire home for a while.
She retreats to New Hampshire again in season five after Zoe is kidnapped, blaming Jed for making her a target. She's also there to help Zoe recover out of the Washington spotlight.
Vice President John Hoynes (Tim Matheson)
Hoynes and Bartlet have a troubled relationship. Both men resent each other from the Democratic primaries: Hoynes had been the front-runner until Bartlet unexpectedly overtook the pack, and Bartlet had to beg him to be veep to secure Southern votes. Despite their antagonism, Hoynes does prove useful to Bartlet on several occassions. He resigns due to a sex scandal near the end of Season 4.
The Alcoholic: It's revealed that Hoynes has his own issues with the bottle, stemming from hisrowdy college days. He hasn't taken a drink since then, but he runs an A.A. meeting because he was so disturbed by what it was like.
Big Bad Wannabe: Still seething from Bartlet stealing the Presidency from him — even moreso once he found out about Bartlet's medical condition, and was obliged to drop out of the race anyway. Unfortunately for Hoynes, he's not as good at listening to other people as Bartlet and his messy personal life compounds his political problems.
The Casanova: Shown to have slept with many women. This is what leads to his political end, not once but twice.
One notable incident on the better side is when a fellow politician in his AA meeting suggests that Leo's presence might draw unwanted attention. Hoynes responds that it's his meeting, and if he wants Leo there then Leo stays.
Oh Crap: The look on his face in the Season 2 opener when a squad of Secret Service agents storm into a photo-op, grab him by the arms, and practically carry him out of the room because of the Rosslyn shooting.
Smug Snake: Throughout his career. He's too careful and tries to steer too often into the political winds to win enough support for the Democratic nomination in the first place, and he's not nearly careful enough in concealing his extramarital affairs.
What the Hell, Hero?: Bartlet had told him (along with the First Lady) he would only serve one term thanks to the MS. When Bartlet tries to blame Hoynes for outing him by preparing to run (setting off the chain of events that led to Toby figuring it out) Hoynes is incensed and points out that Bartlet never said that he'd changed his mind until he announced it on national television.
Worthy Opponent: Bounces between this and The Starscream with President Bartlet. He makes absolutely no secret of his desire to become President and feels that Bartlet holding the office is an obstacle. But he ran a clean campaign during the primary and kept Bartlet's MS disclosure to himself when he could have let the press know and rekindled his own election hopes when Bartlet let him in on the secret... mainly because Bartlet chose him for the V.P. spot because he thought Hoynes had it in him to be a good President and there was a better-than-normal chance that Bartlet could die in office. That still does not stop Hoynes from being insubordinate at times when he feels snubbed and put on the sidelines when there's governmental heavy lifting to be done.
In fact, he wants to be seen as The Dragon to Bartlet himself, but despite his own extensive government and public experience, he is sidelined and his input ignored in favor of Leo and other staff members, being shoved into the stereotypical role of Vice Presidents attending funerals for third world dictators and inquiring daily into the President's health.
Associate White House Counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter)
Ainsley impresses Bartlet when she beats up Sam on a political talk show, so he hires her into the Counsel's office. She's a Republican, so this causes no small amount of friction with the other staff—especially Sam, and they argue a lot. Even though she disagrees with the Administration politically, she is impressed with their decency.
Ainsley: "I'd like to do well on this, my first assignment. Any advice you could give me that might point me the way of success would be, by me, appreciated."
Tribbey: "Well, not speaking in iambic pentameter might be a step in the right direction."
Dumb Blonde: Subverted. A number of people (including her Republican "friends") assume she's this, but she is very sharp.
Enemy Mine: To the forces of stupidity and absurd parisanship.
Establishing Character Moment: Albeit kind of a botched one. She's intended to be shown thoroughly showing Sam up in a televised debate, but the way the scene is written she only "wins" because she keeps interrupting Sam whenever he tries to get a word in.
Motor Mouth: It's a nervous habit; she's much more coherent when she isn't stressed.
MSNBC Conservative: At one point, she concedes that the ACLU might be correct in that national school uniforms might be unconstitutional. When she's in the room the show stays well away from emotionally-charged issues like abortion and gay rights.
Southern Fried Genius: She has a strong accent and doesn't appreciate people making cracks about the South.
Bartlet's second Veep. Russell is widely known as bland and mediocre; he was picked mainly by the Republican House because they figured he wouldn't be a threatening candidate in four years. Russell is aware of this and actively cultivates political reputation and capital as much as he can. He's the frontrunner in the primaries until Matt Santos overtakes him.
Actually Pretty Funny: Toby and Will accidentally load Bartlet's teleprompter with a gag speech draft lambasting Russel for his overwhelming mediocrity. Bartlet improvises, but Russell sees it. He interrupts their profuse apologies to tell them that he found it hilarious and would like a copy.
Genre Savvy: He's well aware that he's known as Bingo Bob, the Congressman from Colorado Mining, and that he was picked as Veep because they couldn't get the Secretary of State nominated.
Hidden Depths: Picked to fill Hoynes' spot as Veep, Russell was meant by Haffley to be a thorn in the side of Bartlet's administration AND a non-threat to Congressional Democrats who were hoping to run for President once Bartlet's second term ended. Russell spites both expectations by proving reliable to Bartlet as well as garnering front-runner status for the 2006 campaign.
At one point, he's the only person in the entire administration to figure out which country performed an unannounced nuclear test in the Indian Ocean. Not Bartlet or Leo, not the CIA or NSA, Bingo freakin' Bob. His bland personal demeanour masks a mind as good as that of anyone else on the show.
Self-Deprecation: He's well aware of how bland he seems and jokes that his secret service codename is simply "Bob Russell".
Sleazy Politician: To an extent, and probably the most prominent example on the Democratic side.
Strawman Political: Russell is basically the walking personification of every negative stereotype about modern politicians: he's dumb, bland, graspingly ambitious, has no firm ideological convictions, takes special-interest money by the forklift-load, and will do just about anything to win an election.
Republican Senator/Candidate For President Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda)
A longtime Republican Senator from California. Vinick is a fiscal conservative who is moderate on social issues. He's respected on both sides of the aisle and Bartlet wanted to make him Ambassador to the U.N. Vinick quickly becomes the Republican nominee and runs a very strong campaign against Matt Santos, winning support even from Democrats with his straight talk and moderate stance on many issues.
Affably Evil: Make that Affably Antagonistic. Sure, he's a Republican in a show focused on Democrats, but he's never portrayed as anything other than a decent guy.
Brooklyn Rage: They Hand Wave this by saying that he was born in New York and moved to California during childhood.
Defeat Means Friendship: Joins Santos' Administration as Secretary of State, and it's implied he's going to do quite a job in the position. Somewhat subverted, as they are shown several times in the campaign to have a strong mutual respect, and prior to running, they co-sponsored a bill together at one point.
Hollywood Atheist: Subverted. He's set up as being one due to his wife's death, but later reveals that he'd given up on God after a thorough reading of the Bible years before.
Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: When his staffers find Santos' forgotten briefcase, which contains documents that make it appear that Santos is paying child support to a mistress, Vinick eventually returns it without exposing its contents.
He also flatly refuses to contest the election on the ground of Leo's death, as he'd known Leo himself and finds the idea repugnant.
MSNBC Conservative: Probably to be expected for a Republican Senator who served in California, which is largely liberal bar a few districts (like the one where Sam ran for Congress).
Reasonable Authority Figure: Very much so as a Senator and as a Presidential prospect. In fact, he's so impressive that lifelong Democrat Bruno Gianelli claims he might just work on his campaign for free.
The Smart Guy: While he is a Conservative character in a Liberal setting, the show still shows Vinick as extremely intelligent and someone who would make a terrific President.
What You Are in the Dark: The aforementioned briefcase moment. Vinick is clearly tempted by the thought of using its contents against Santos, particularly with the justification that "the voters have a right to know."
Worthy Opponent: He and Santos view each other as this. Never more evident than in the debate episode.
More than one Democratic or White House character remarks that they could vote for him after seeing one of his appearances.
Democratic Congressman/Candidate For President Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits)
A three-term Congressman who wanted to quit politics after becoming disillusioned with Washington. Josh was unwilling to let his political talent go and persuaded him to run for President. Santos started at the back of the pack, but his earnest idealism combined with some outside circumstances give him a very narrow win at the convention.
Ace Pilot: A military fighter pilot, and flew his own plane during the campaign.
Deadpan Snarker: Josh asks him about some weird rumors about his personal life once. Santos' reply? A very solemn "His name is Carlos..." Josh immediately cracks up.
Generic Guy: Santos is an Expy for then-Senator Obama. As the minority ("brown") candidate, he doesn't have any defining traits other than a generalized goodness.
It's also a problem on the campaign trail when his staff has to struggle to give him a distinctive image, rather than a likable guy who just happens to be running for President.
Genre Savvy: He wants to avoid being seen as the "brown candidate" and tries to avoid situations where the story will be "Latino supports Latino issues."
Guile Hero: Why Josh is so taken with him. Even though Santos had just three terms in Congress, he took a Republican healthcare template, naturally hated by the Democrats, made it a bipartisan effort, and by the end turned it into something that the President could actually sign—without losing Republican support. And then there's the time where he makes Haffley think that the Democrats all went home so he could crash their vote on a bill....
Not What It Looks Like: The aforementioned documents in the briefcase Vinick found. Santos is paying child support for his illegitimate nephew, due to his irresponsible brother having an affair with one of Matt's staffers while Matt was mayor of Houston.
Spanner in the Works: For the Democratic party in general and particularly the Russell campaign. There are multiple instances of him being urged to quit "for the good of the party," which naturally fall on deaf ears. Tends to go against his advisers' recommendations sometimes. He's usually proven right in these decisions.
What the Hell, Hero?: Gets this from Josh in New Hampshire when he says he intends to run a "keep 'em honest" campaign for a few months instead of going for a win. Josh, who gave up his job in the White House to run Santos' campaign, is not happy.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Some of his initial difficulties stem from the fact that what works to win a seat in the House of Representatives will not work to win the Presidency.
Deputy Communications Director then Chief of Staff to the Vice President Will Bailey (Joshua Malina)
First seen refusing to end a Congressional campaign for a candidate who had died. Will's dogged idealism impressed Sam, and when Sam agreed to stand in for a special election, he sent Will to the White House as his replacement. Despite his initial idealism, Will accepted Bob Russell's job offer and left the West Wing, becoming a more pragmatic and somewhat antagonistic force to the other senior staffers as he pushed the Veep's agenda.
Toby: There were maybe four people in the room when I had that conversation.
Will: Well, if I'd have been one of them, I would have repeated it to everyone I met.
Which is exactly what he did on an episode of Sports Night a few years prior:
Isaac: Things that I say in my office stay in my office.
Dana: Natalie's my second-in-command, she's the only one I told.
Natalie: Jeremy's my boyfriend, he's the only one I told.
Jeremy: I told many, many people.
Adorkable: Especially during his early days in the White House. He insists on not crossing the "holy line of demarcation" into the West Wing and goes down in incoherent flames the first time he encounters the President.
Face-Heel Turn: While not exactly becoming evil, Will's decision to abandon the Bartlet administration in order to run the campaign of the generally incompetent and unlikable Bob Russell's presidential campaign gives him a two-season long arc as an antagonist to more sympathetic characters like Josh and Toby.
Field Promotion: Is rather abruptly "dragooned" by CJ to be Communications Director for the White House. Roughly two years earlier he had been running a winning campaign for the House of Representatives. He had no preparation whatsoever for the job, but he's a talented speechwriter (the best in the series, after Sam) and manages okay. Eventually.
Geeky Turn-On: Provided much fetish fuel for geeky girls of all stripes.
Grumpy Bear: Becomes this not long after accepting the job in the White House—he's still principled (mostly) but quashes his idealistic tendencies so as to be more effective.
Screw Destiny: In regards to not only putting a Democrat on California's permanently-Republican 47th Congressional seat, but one who dies during the campaign. The reason he meets Sam at all is because Sam calls to say that he needs to stop. Yet, through a confluence of his campaigning, opposition apathy, and weather, Will forces a special election.
Skilled, but Na´ve: He's an excellent writer and campaigner, but like any other new staffer, is initially overwhelmed by the magnitude of his workplace.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Initially. The idealism goes stealth, but it's still there in his belief that Bartlet and Leo saw something worthwhile in Bob Russell, other than being the only candidate that Congress would confirm without a fight.
Cmdr Kate Harper, Deputy National Security Adviser (Mary McCormack)
Nancy McNally's assistant, introduced near the end of season 5. She plays a key role in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and essentially takes over McNally's role as "sit room crisis person," but as a member of the main cast rather than a recurring character.
Action Girl: Heavily implied. She's also the West Wing equivalent of this; a good chunk of her screentime is dealing with some kind of crisis in the Situation Room.
Category Traitor: Mild version. She votes for Vinick rather than Santos, to Will's dismay.
Mysterious Past: She used to work for the CIA, apparently had a rough time in Cuba.
Only Sane Woman: Sometimes, particularly in the episode where an international crisis happens on the border... with Canada.
Sixth Ranger: Added to the main cast late in the fifth season, but as her duties are centered around the military and the Situation Room and she knows many things that are restricted knowledge even from characters with codeword clearance, she lacks the True Companions kind of relationship that most of the senior staff have.
Chief White House Correspondent Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield)
A reporter for the Washington Post who has a thing for C.J. Naturally, this causes problems—the attraction is mutual, but they dance around each other's jobs a lot and the relationship never quite gets off the ground due to conflicts of interest.
Recurring Character: Almost certainly the most appearing recurring character who didn't work for the President.
Director of the Women's Leadership Coalition and Chief of Staff to the First Lady then Director of Legislative Affairs Amy Gardner (Mary-Louise Parker)
Amy is introduced as a love interest for Josh and a women's issues wonk. Because of her single focus, Amy and Josh clash a lot. Abbey hires her as her Chief of Staff because Amy is good at working politics; she shows up in the next presidential campaign advising the Democratic field.
Defeat Means Friendship: An unusual case. While they are dating, Josh and Amy find themselves on the opposing sides of fight over a welfare-reauthorization bill which ends when Josh manages to get Amy fired. They stay friends throughout the rest of show (even briefly dating again).
Amy: I fought you, I lost, I had a drink, I took a shower. 'Cause that's how it is in the NBA.
Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: The episode where she cuts Josh's phone cord and throws his cellphone in the soup so that she can beat him on a bill is played for laughs. Please imagine if the positions were reversed.
Fish out of Water: As the First Lady's chief of staff. She's used to pushing her agendas hard and ruthlessly, which doesn't work in the White House.
Executive Secretary to the President Delores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten)
Mrs. Landingham has been working for Bartlet since he was New Hampshire's governor and long before. As such, she is affectionally unimpressed with him and his senior staff, but she'll give them a cookie if they behave well. She is very loyal to Jed, and very patriotic despite having lost both of her sons in Vietnam; she takes her job very seriously.
Cool Old Lady: One of the coolest, and all the moreso because it's never at the expense of her dignity.
Death by Irony: She buys a car for the very first time and is killed by a drunk driver while driving home.
Last Name Basis: All other assistants are "Donna" or "Carole" or "Bonnie" or what have you, but she is always "Mrs. Landingham." This is due to the fact that she's been looking after Jed since he was a young man, and he's simply always known her as "Mrs. Landingham" due to the age difference. She was his father's secretary, but she ended up becoming the chief maternal influence in Bartlet's life.
Jed only calls her "Dolores" about twice in the show: In 18th and Potomac just before she's killed and in the flashback to the first time they met, when she firmly corrects him.
No Badass to His Valet: Basically the only person in the cast other than Abbie who is never intimidated by the President.
Old Retainer: She was originally Bartlet's father's secretary.
Team Mom: A bit of a tough love mom, but she's got a jar of cookies on her desk to give out when someone suffers a massive legislative defeat.
Executive Secretary to the President Deborah Fiderer (Lily Tomlin)
When she was Debbie DiLaguardia, she passed on Charlie's resume over the son of a prominent donor because she saw Charlie would be better and got fired for her troubles. Charlie seeks her out to take Mrs. Landingham's place. Despite a rocky start, Debbie takes to the job and becomes a reliable, no-nonsense gatekeeper of the Oval.
Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Bartlet and Josh, most notably, don't like her new rules and regulations for Bartlet's time. However, she has very good reasons for doing so and her changes do make the day go much more efficiently.
Chekhov's Gunman: Her name was mentioned in Season 1 as the staffer who recommended Charlie for his jobnote under her married surname. When Jed finally accepts the need for a new secretary, Charlie calls her first.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: She's written inflammatory letters to the White House and claims to be an alpaca farmer when Charlie calls, but she's very good at her job and takes it quite seriously.
Do Not Call Me Paul: Hates being called "Deb," but she can't find a good way to tell Bartlet that.
The Gambler: She begs to be let into the staff poker game and pulls out a wad of cash she's brought for the occasion when Bartlet tries to dissuade her. She cleans up.
Honor Before Reason: She refuses to tell Bartlet why she was fired even when he tries to order her as the President. She was fired for hiring Charlie instead of another staffer's kid. Bartlet finds out anyway when the guy who fired her accuses her of tattling on him outside the Oval Office.
Hypercompetent Sidekick: Consciously takes this role. She creates new protocol for calls and staff meetings to ease stress on Bartlet's MS.
In Vino Veritas: She took a Valium before her first interview to steady her nerves. When Bartlet asks about her previous employment at the White House, she says "If you want to talk about getting screwed with your pants on..."
Insistent Terminology: She wrote a letter to the White House in which she said "let's put arsenic in President Bartlet's drinking water and see if he delegates responsibility to the World Bank then" (on the subject of water safety). Bartlet decides that the fact that she called him President Bartlet shows class.
Photographic Memory: She's able to quote back market figures exactly several minutes and some emotional turmoil after hearing them. This is one of the several reasons that Bartlet decides to hire her after all.
Refusal of the Call: Literally. She hangs up on Charlie and then closes the door in his face because she doesn't want to work for the White House again.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
"Fitz," as Bartlet and Leo call him, is a veteran of the Sit Room and international crises. He's a steady and solid adviser who helps Bartlet make some of the really tough calls and deal with the aftermath.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Not really. But he will go off on irrelevant tangents during tense or otherwise serious situations (like when waiting to receive intel) to get a reaction out of the President or Leo.
Nice to the Waiter: Shown as treating men under him in a rather fatherly way and respecting Their opinions and intelligence.
Put on a Bus: For Season 2 and most of Season 3, he's conveniently out of the country when a crisis occurs. Eventually he comes back.
Reasonable Authority Figure: The President has authority over him, but his opinion is always thought through well, and Fitzwallace is thoroughly committed to doing his job properly without any thought to politics.
Retirony: He'd actually been in retirement for a little while when Bartlet asked him to join the Congressional delegation to Gaza.
Speaker Of The House Jeff Haffley (Republican) (Steven Culp)
Haffley replaces the previous Speaker and immediately makes a name for himself by forcing Bartlet to accept a thoroughly mediocre Veep. He pushes huge budget cutsnote they're single-digit percentages, but that's a huge amount of dollars to the point of a government shutdown; although this ultimately backfires on him, he continues to fight the Administration in other ways.
Big Bad: He's about as close as the later seasons come to having a main antagonist, and can usually be counted upon to be behind any attacks on the administration or its policy.
The Chessmaster: Fancies himself one. Compared to Bartlet AND Santos, he's not.
Jerk Ass: Contrasted with the Republican Majority Leader, who is much less partisan.
Putona Bus: Although a huge part of Season 5, he's rarely seen in Season 6 and disappears entirely in Season 7 - though he is given a bit of a final offscreen comeuppance when the Republicans lose control of the house, and the last we hear about Haffley is that he's out of a job.
Smug Snake: Very bright, and capable of using the Republican majority in Congress quite effectively, but unable to alter his plans, and extremely stuck-up and unlikeable in person.
Villainous Breakdown: Has a minor one when the President pays him a surprise visit during the government shutdown. He takes such a long time being flummoxed that Bartlet leaves, which turns public opinion against him.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: He's an unlikable jerk, but his portrayal never becomes significantly worse than this. He's not evil, just very, very right wing.
Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: He congratulates Josh on a trade bill that will gut American tech jobs (something that Josh hadn't realized until it was too late).