Tom Dobbs is the host of a successful political talk show. Always happy to take shots at that system he sees as broken, he has no shortage of material with the presidential election coming up. Then during his warm up act one day, an audience member suggests he should run for president. He laughs it off at first, but after a huge wave of support, he does put his name on the ballot, of course expecting not to win. The shocker? He does. Meanwhile, Eleanor Green, an employee of Delacroy, the people who make the voting machines, suspects the whole election could have been won on a system glitch.
This film provides examples of:
- As Himself: James Carville, Chris Matthews, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
- Colbert Bump: A fictional example, and also an example of Colbert's faux South Carolina primary campaign taken to its logical conclusion.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Delacroy company, that created the voting machines, knew perfectly well about the glitch and does its damnedest to try to keep Green from blowing the whistle about it throughout the whole film.
- Expy: Tom Dobbs is essentially Jon Stewart. There's also a Casting Gag by having Lewis Black play one of Dobbs' supporters.
- Finale Title Drop: The very last thing the film shows before cutting to credits is a cover of Time Magazine that named Tom Dobbs the "Man Of The Year" as a result of his actions.
- Graceful Loser: Aware that he won because of the glitch, Tom uses an appearance on Saturday Night Live to graciously step down from the office of President Elect.
- Genre Roulette: Something the marketing didn't show: While Dobbs' arc is pretty comedic almost all the way through, Eleanor Green's arc is a political thriller in the vein of All the President's Men. Critic consensus is that this was done well, though the comedy portions were received the best.
- How We Got Here: The entire film is told from the memory of wheelchair-bound Jack Menkin.
- Leno Device: Tom Dobbs appears on Saturday Night Live during a "Weekend Update" segment with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The film was advertised as pretty much a straight comedy, but is very obviously a comedy-drama, even veering into political thriller territory at times.
- Reality Ensues: Tom Dobbs runs as an Independent party during the elections, as a joke, and wins. Because of the voting machines having a glitch involving dual letters in the candidates' names. In reality, once the votes are recounted manually, it turns out that he never had the necessary votes to win so much as a single state. The United States of America is a pretty tough town for anybody running outside the Democrat or Republican sides.
- Show Within a Show: Dobbs' political comedy show, which is where everything began.
- Take That!: Dobbs doesn't pull any punches against his opponents during the presidential debate, and his popularity in the polls skyrocketed for it.
- Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: James Hemmings and Stewart are played straight and not for laughs. Their plotline involving Eleanor Green creates such a sharp, dark contrast to the main plot involving Tom Dobbs that it's almost like it exists in another movie.