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Series / The West Wing

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Cast, from top, left to right: Charlie, C.J., Toby, and Donna; Second Row: Sam, Abbey, Pres. Bartlet, Leo, and Josh. Can't you just smell the idealism?

Bartlet: There's a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?
Will: It's the only thing that ever has.
— "Inauguration, Part II" (also, Margaret Mead)

The West Wing is a political drama series (1999-2006) created by Aaron Sorkin, starring Martin Sheen as the idealized President of the United States, nerdily intellectual Democrat Jed Bartlet. The real focus, however, is on his smart and dedicated staff, who roam the White House endlessly discussing the pressing political issues of the moment. In fact, the President wasn't even originally intended to appear very often, but Sheen was so impressive in the pilot that he was made a regular instead of the original four-episodes-a-season plan.

The rest of the cast includes Stockard Channing as the President's wife Abbey, John Spencer as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Allison Janney as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, Rob Lowe as Deputy Director of Communications Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as the President's assistant Charlie, Janel Moloney as Josh's secretary Donna, and Richard Schiff as Director of Communications Toby Ziegler. Additional cast includes Marlee Matlin, who plays political consultant Joey Lucas, and is one of the few times an actual deaf person is cast in a major television program, and Mary-Louise Parker as feminist spokesperson/First Lady's Chief of Staff Amy Gardner.

As per Sorkin's style, the show is wall-to-wall dialogue. The characters spend the entirety of every episode having lengthy, pointed arguments about real concerns such as public education, foreign aid and gun control, in a style of patter which carefully balances sober and didactic with nutty and didactic. All sides of an issue are covered (the show even gave the reason for the US Navy's infamous four-hundred-dollar ashtrays), although the show still has a distinctly liberal bias, with more than a few Republicans being portrayed as arrogant and out of touch. It did get a fair bit of criticism from conservatives for this, but many saw it as the best attempt to date to try to be a truly fair and balanced drama about Washington, D.C.. The show is notorious for the Walk and Talk — to create the illusion of activity in the midst of all this discussion, the characters constantly walk around the White House as they talk, despite the fact that they rarely have any place to go. Its nickname on Television Without Pity was "pedeconferencing", which was also picked up by Sorkin and Schlamme, among others.

It's also notorious for its vanishing characters. The characters played by Rob Lowe and Moira Kelly never officially left; they merely were never seen again, despite the fact that Lowe in particular was an integral part of the White House social order (and had just had a running plot which gave him a perfect way out). This is just a quirk of Sorkin's which even his most ardent fans find irritating and inexplicable. Lowe, it should be noted, returned close to the finale and had his resignation and intermezzo period explained. Mandy is still on her bus to Mandyville.

The first four seasons were written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. They left at the end of the fourth season, to be replaced by John Wells (of ER fame). Rather than trying to emulate Sorkin's style, Wells decided to emphasize the personal lives of the characters over the politics, and the show moved more to the middle of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism and dealing with many current events issues. The last two seasons also shifted the plot out of the White House and into the next presidential race, adding Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits as the Republican and Democratic frontrunners (Alda's Emmy would tie the show with Hill Street Blues as the most honored drama in Emmy history). Despite lacking even one mention of superdelegates, the Santos-vs-Vinick campaign is noted for its stunning accuracy and is possibly the single most realistic fictional depiction of an American presidential political campaign anywhere. It's also notable for the fact that the presidential race, written and aired in 2005/06, has a more-than-passing resemblance to the 2008 presidential campaign, with a charismatic young non-white Congressman (Santos/Obama) facing off against a moderate "straight talking" Republican from the American Southwest (Vinick/McCain). The writers have said they based Santos on then-Senator Obama after the latter's speech at the 2004 National Democratic Convention.

After NBC moved the show up against the inexplicable ratings juggernaut Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ratings declined to the point where, in 2006, it was cancelled. Though the Santos-Vinick Election arc did give a perfect out for its Grand Finale.

Originally on Netflix, the whole series is now streaming on HBOMax as of December 2020.

In 2020, the cast came together on HBO Max to restagenote  "Hartsfield Landing" from Season 3 as part of an initiative to encourage voting ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. Due to John Spencer's passing, Sterling K. Brown stepped in to play Leo.

This show provides examples of:

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  • Aborted Arc:
    • Charlie talks to the President about marrying Zoey towards the end of season 6. The Charlie and Zoey relationship is never brought up again after this.
    • Also, Joey Lucas originally showed up as a campaign manager for a congressional candidate in California whose funding got cut off. The President says that he doesn't like her candidate, and then has Josh tell her that he thinks she should run for office. In every other appearance, she is a pollster, and there is never any mention of her as a potential candidate for anything.
    • Also, Leo warns Abbey Bartlet about abusing medication to cope with her emotions after Zoe's kidnapping. This is dropped a few episodes later.
    • In "The Leadership Breakfast," Toby gets played by a Congressman's new, ultra-competent, ultra-ruthless Chief of Staff, and the White House is made to look foolish. The implication at the end of the episode is that the White House will be tangling with her throughout the next couple years. While the election becomes an important part of the following seasons, the rival Chief of Staff is never seen or mentioned again.
    • Donna is very heavily implied to have developed PTSD as a result of the Gaza bombing, but the entire storyline is dropped and never brought up again. This is especially odd considering her relationship with Josh, who struggled with the same thing after the shooting.
    • The confirmation of Mendoza to the Supreme Court was set up to be a major plotline, with several character remarking about what an uphill fight his confirmation would be in the Senate. However, Mendoza made very few appearances after that, and was eventually confirmed in a quick scene with little fanfare. This was due to Edward James Olmos demanding more money for his appearances and refusing to come back when he didn't get it.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Ed & Larry, Leo aka "Gerald", Josh's names for Donna. Donna's full name is usually mistaken for one of these; Ms. Moss's full first name really is Donnatella.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Vice President John Hoynes claims that his problems with alcohol partly stem back to "some experiences at college". Given that he is played by Tim Matheson, one wonders if he was in Delta House at Faber College.
    • Governor Eric Baker of Pennsylvania shows up a few times in Season 6 as a potential presidential candidate, and is frequently discussed as a potentially formidable opponent with a strong base of popularity among urban and suburban blue collar workers of the Midwest and Northeast. He is played by Ed O'Neill, whose most famous role is Al Bundy, the iconic north midwest suburban working class slob.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • During Toby's disastrous run as a substitute press secretary, he comes to the podium one day and notices that the press room is almost empty. He asks, "Is this some kind of national press holiday? HL Mencken's birthday or something?" No one responds. Later, when Annabeth gives him some coaching, she points out that the line was actually pretty good - his delivery was just so bitter it was like he was throwing the joke in the media's face, and no one's going to laugh in that situation.
    • At the very end of "Impact Winter" as the China Summit is wrapping up, CJ congratulates the President on pulling off such an outstanding diplomatic job when they all thought the whole thing was going to go down in flames:
      CJ: You've got potential, sir, you oughta think about running for office.
      Bartlet: HA!
  • The Alcoholic: Leo. Vice President Hoynes is an interesting example. His father was an alcoholic and Hoynes himself frequently attends AA meetings (in fact, he hosts his own, attended by various congressmen and politicians and disguised as a card game to avoid attracting attention from the press), but only had a very few drinks in his life. He got drunk a couple times in college (haven't we all?) and, showing an insane degree of self-awareness, realized that getting drunk was a bit too easy for him and cut himself off entirely.
  • The Alleged Boss: Type 4. Within True Companions, hierarchy and rank tend to get blurred.
    C.J.: I'm assigning an intern from the press office to that web site. They're going to check it every night before they go home. If they discover you've been there, I'm going to shove a motherboard so far up your ass...What?
    Josh: Well... technically, I outrank you.
    C.J.: So far up your ass!
    • But ALWAYS Averted with President Bartlet.
  • Alliterative Title: The West Wing.
  • Alternate History: Richard Nixon was the most recent Real Life President who was actively confirmed to be President in the show's universe. Before Bartlet's tenure, there were several fictional Presidents, including Owen Lassiter and David W. Newman. Among other things, this resulted in the show's cycle of elections being off by two years, so there were Presidential elections held in 1998, 2002 and 2006. note 
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Maybe not evil, but certainly very bad. Bartlet, Santos, and Leo have to be talked into running for national office, and Walken confides to Debbie that he never wanted to be President. Hoynes and Russell, on the other hand, have their desire to be President as their defining character trait, and are treated as generally bad people, while "ambitious" congressmen looking to move up are the enemy of just about every third episode. Basically, the only politician who actively seeks out higher office and doesn't come off badly is Vinick.
    • In the episode "Undecideds," Toby delivers an eloquent rebuttal to this trope, arguing that the presidency requires someone who sees himself as a "man of destiny," and will therefore be comfortable making the hard and earth-shaking decisions the post requires. Which is either extremely ironic or hypocritical on Toby's part, given that Bartlet had to be talked into running for office, although once he was President, Bartlet proved to be the kind of leader Toby was talking about.
      • In a season 4 episode Bartlet himself rebuts this, when Josh is willing to trample on the Third Amendment if it'll mean passing the federal budget. Bartlet points out that Josh was doing it not for the sake of the country but so as not to let Leo down, and says "You know what the difference is between you and me? I want to be the guy. You want to be the guy the guy counts on."
  • America Saves the Day: America solves the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Also, after Bartlet learns the valuable lesson of a proportionate response in S1 by way of Leo going What the Hell, Hero?, he teaches it to the British P.M. in Season 6, since apparently her staff can't do the same. And conveniently, the strike that brings down a British civilian plane was an accident, so they can't do anything, even a "proportionate response".
  • And Starring: Martin Sheen was always billed last in the opening credits with an "And". When Jimmy Smits joined the show he was placed before Sheen, and after John Spencer, and listed as "With".
  • Answer Cut:
    • At the end of "Things Fall Apart", an extremely sensitive news story is leaked to the press, and Annabeth worriedly comments that whoever did it would have had to be very high up. The camera cuts to CJ (watching another plot thread wrap up on television) as ominous music plays out the episode. We later find out that it was a Red Herring; Toby did it.
    • A "Jeopardy!" version with the answer preceding the question: Bruno (working for the Vinick campaign) finds a briefcase. Cut to Santos asking for his briefcase and his staff quickly realizing nobody knows where it is.
  • Arc Words:
    • "What's next?"
    • "I serve at the pleasure of the President."
    • During Bartlet's reelection campaign, "Game on."
  • Armchair Military: President Bartlet quickly grows out of this the first time he has to order a strike by US forces. At first, ruled by anger, he spurns the idea of a "proportionate response" and wants to inflict "total disaster" instead. However, when faced with the reality of mass death and suffering taking out even one airport would inflict he falls back on the proportionate response almost immediately and calms down after a quick shouting match with Leo.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • Sam Seaborn and Pres. Bartlet, as trained rhetoricians, have a talent for them, as does Danny Concannon the reporter.
    • Central to the second-season episode "Noel" is a trauma counselor asking Josh "how did you cut your hand?" over and over until he tells the truth.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Danny: I have covered the White House for 8 years and I've done it with The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the Dallas Morning News! And I'm telling you, you can't mess me around like this!
    C.J.: Danny, I gotta tell you, that was, seriously, that was a turn on when you said that, although I don't know why you decided the be your most haughty on the "Dallas Morning News" in that sentence...
    • Also when the NIH is under attack:
      Josh: Penicillin, human genetics and Rogaine were all discovered without a practical goal in mind.
  • Artistic License: Consultant Lawrence O'Donnell said that after the show hit the air, he was worried that there would be a weekly column in The New York Times entitled "What The West Wing Got Wrong This Week." He was pleasantly surprised that most people - including experienced political operatives - seemed to accept the artistic license of the show.
    Specific examples:
    • The staff members last longer in their gigs than their real-life counterparts tend to. For example, Chief of Staff is pretty much a one-and-a-half to two-year job (it is an intensely stressful gig), and Leo's there for five or six years (although he does end up having a heart attack). And White Houses run through press secretaries like they come five to a nickel from a gumball machine, but CJ was at that podium until Leo's heart attack prompted her switch to his job.
    • It's very unlikely that a press secretary, primarily concerned with public relations, would transition directly to a high-level operational role later on as C.J. did.
    • The West Wing is depicted as a large structure with plenty of space for wide corridors, large bullpens, and individual offices. In reality, the West Wing is incredibly cramped with narrow hallways and low ceilings and most staff need to share what little office space there is. In fact, most of those who work for the President of the United States are actually located outside the White House in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
    • It is a nice sentiment for Santos to want Baker to be confirmed by Congress via the 25th Amendment, rather than by the Electoral College, but the truth is that probably won't be necessary and he probably doesn't have much choice. At the time of Santos' decision, the only living person with pledged electors is Ray Sullivan and his 266, not enough to be elected. If any elector attempted to vote for Leo, it would be ruled invalid because Leo is dead, as happened to 3 electors who attempte to vote for Horace Greely for President after his death in 1872. As such, there is no individual with enough Electoral Votes to be elected Vice President during the College’s December meeting. This would automatically trigger a contingent election in the Senate between the two highest vote-getters, whether Santos wants one or not, and it is unlikely that all 272 of his electors would sit back and vote for nobody for Vice President. And if they did, it would most likely cause Santos to be stuck with Sullivan, as he would be the only candidate in the contingent election. An even worse scenario would be a handful of Sullivan electors going rogue and voting for someone else, causing the contingent election to be between two Republicans should the Santos electors stay put. Because of this, to avoid any potential mishaps, Santos would need to instruct at least some of his electors vote for Baker in December so that he would be in the top two and thus eligible for the contingent election. In other words, in real life, whether he wanted it or not, Santos would have a Vice President sworn in alongside him in January, for better or for worse
    • Will Bailey, who spent his youth in the United Kingdom, is said to have been a Eton valedictorian, apparently to emphasise how talented he has always been. In reality, the tradition of valedictory speeches and selecting an especially brilliant leaver to deliver them is completely unknown in British secondary schools and, consequently, there is no such thing as an Eton valedictorian.
    • The British Ambassador John Marbury is consistently called and referred to as Lord John, although, as a peer in his own right (the Marquess of Needham), the correct address would be Lord Needham (Lord Firstname being the courtesy address for younger sons of a peer). As this mistake is never discussed on stage, this may be either artistic licence or intentional ignorance on the part of the American characters.
    • The translator subplot on "The State Dinner" hinges on Indonesia being so diverse and lacking a common language, at one point a Javanese translator outright said there's no such language as Indonesian. In reality, the Indonesian language (a standardized variant of Malay) has existed even before Indonesian independence, is part of the national curriculum, and is commonly used in official and daily settings. Even if the State Department can't spare an Indonesian or Malay translator, the embassy staff in Indonesia would readily point out that English is also taught as part of higher education, and while fluency varies, a high-ranking official would have a passable command of English.
  • Artistic License – Geography: For the assassination in "Posse Comitatus" to take place they pick a "remote" RAF base in Bermuda as the site. Bermuda is very small and is only able to have one airport; it's international one.
  • Artistic License – Law: A slightly jarring example from "Enemies," early in Season 1. The Antiquities Act empowers the President to unilaterally establish national monuments, not parksnote . In practice, there's relatively little difference in the protections that a site receives as a result, but using the correct term really wouldn't have affected the plot, and wouldn't have drawn winces from viewers who knew the difference (probably quite a few of them).
    • The titular character in "Mr. Willis of Ohio" is a representative appointed to his wife's seat after her death. Except members of the House of Representatives don't get appointed replacements when they have to leave office early - only Senators do. Special elections are held to replace departed representatives. The seat remains empty until filled by a special election. Consultant Lawrence O'Donnell actually pointed that out to Sorkin during the writing of the show - according to O'Donnell, Sorkin was pretty annoyed to learn that, eventually just shrugging and saying that he didn't want to make the episode about the Senate, because Senators are more recognizable and it would break verisimilitude for the audience.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • The show frequently deals with various military crises of varying severity. Oftentimes a Navy ship of a real class but a fake name will be mentioned.
    • At one point The administration deals with a military pilot who stole an $18 million plane, it's mentioned by Josh that this pilot had received a Purple Heart previously after he ejected from his shot plane in Bosnia. Pilots that eject from their fighters are deemed unfit to fly due to potential medical complications after the extreme G-forces.
    • During Admiral Fitzwallace's memorable speech about "not knowing if it's peacetime or wartime anymore", he calls himself a "soldier". The Inter-Service Rivalry of the U.S. military would make it taboo for a member of one branch of the military to use a term from another branch; thus, a Navy man would never call himself a soldier, always a sailor or seaman. (Maybe, in his capacity as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he'd call himself a serviceman, but in the U.S. military, "soldier" always means U.S. Army.) Leo, a former airman, does the same in 'Game On'.
    • The "peacetime or wartime" speech is also composed almost entirely of false claims about military history and assassination.
      • The Romans, far from establishing "protected persons" immune from murder, provide some of the most famous assassinations in history such as Julius Caesar, Pompey, Caligula, Commodus, and the proscriptions of Sulla and the Second Triumvirate.
      • Medieval warfare was in no way akin to a polo match with heralds picking a winner and prisoners treated humanely. It was hideously gory and whatever chivalry there was only applied to aristocrats who could afford a high ransom while the peasants were usually slaughtered wholesale. Worse, Fitzwallace specifically cites the Battle of Agincourt, which the English (not "the British") won not by some heralds' decree but by slaughtering the French with a Rain of Arrows as well as massacring many of their prisoners when victory seemed in doubt.
      • Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not a participant in 20 July Plot to kill Adolf Hitler but rather a member of the German Resistance who'd been imprisoned 15 months before. His only connection to the plot was that the subsequent crackdown exposed his handlers (most of whom also had no direct part in the plot), resulting in Hitler making sure to have them all executed before the war's end.
  • As Himself:
    • Barenaked Ladies play at a Rock The Vote event.
    • James Taylor sings "A Change Is Gonna Come" during a tribute to Sam Cooke.
    • Yo-Yo Ma performs at the Congressional Christmas Party.
    • Forrest Sawyer moderates the debate between Vinick and Santos in "The Debate".
    • Foo Fighters plays the Santos election party.
    • Keb' Mo' performs "America the Beautiful" in the series finale.
    • Averted once, when Lawrence Lessig was played by Christopher Lloyd. Lessig is the only real person to not be played by himself in his appearance.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Lord John Marbury takes it to a hilarious level: "Abigail! May I grasp your breasts?" Abigail, of course, is the First Lady of the United States and standing right next to her husband.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Religion is frequently central to the political conflicts and many characters are fond of quoting the Bible. President Bartlet, with his thoroughgoing Catholicism is fond of this.
  • Asymmetric Dilemma: In one episode, Toby points out that the problem with jokes about the Vice President's mediocrity is that "He doesn't think they're funny, and everyone else doesn't think they're jokes."
    • The series uses the joke in numerous instances to point out how short their various successes fall short of actually fixing massive social injustices.
  • Audience Surrogate: Donna often has Josh explain an issue to her in the early seasons.
    • The cop in "Somebody's Going to Emergency ..." has Toby explain the WTO protests to her.
    • C.J. asks Sam to explain the census to her.
    • Bartlet has to have the phrase "wetwork" explained to him.
  • Author Catch Phrase: "What Kind of Day Has It Been", used as a finale episode in four of Aaron Sorkin's shows.
    • Leo also conspicuously utilizes the phrase when asking for the day's summary from the officers on duty in the Sit Room in the episode "Commencement", which was the second-to-last episode Sorkin wrote for the series.
  • Back for the Finale: A number of characters who were Put on a Bus earlier in the series' run made return appearances in the final season.
    • Of the main cast, Sam Seaborn, who gets recruited (once again) by Josh to help run Santos' administration.
    • Several recurring characters, such as Ainsley Hayes and Ron Butterfield.
    • Creator Aaron Sorkin himself shows up onscreen in the series finale as a witness at Santos' inauguration.
  • Badass Bookworm: All of the cast. They're smart, they're driven, and if you piss them off, they will make you regret it.
  • Badass Pacifist: The cast barely engage in any physical activity throughout the series and always struggle for a peaceful compromise, but they also engage in intellectual and emotional battles of the highest level on a constant basis, and if you think something like physical violence is going to scare them, you'd be sorely mistaken.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Speaker Walken, later President Walken. Bartlet's staff worries that Walken will use the opportunity to push a Republican agenda, but he turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sam and Ainsley, CJ and Danny, Josh and Amy.
  • Benevolent Boss: Both the President and Leo, although both are certainly capable of calling down fire and brimstone when necessary. Bartlet's summary dismissal of Toby in the final season was about as cold a decision as he was ever shown making.
  • Berserk Button: Almost everyone in the cast has at least one:
    • Josh very much doesn't like it when you say anything bad about someone he cares about. Sam had to stop him from beating up an investigator who was trying to use Leo's drug-addict past against him.
      • In one specific occasion, he also yells at the President in the Oval Office, after exhibiting odd and concerning behavior for several weeks. However, his coworkers recognize this for what it is: a massive red flag of Josh's worsening PTSD.
    • Charlie pushed a punk kid against the wall and gave him an elbow to the throat when the kid called C.J. a bitch.
    • Toby warns a the same investigator who threatened Leo about his own version of the trope: "I'm told that on my sunniest days I'm not that fun to be around. I wonder what's gonna happen when you make my children a part of your life." Bonus points for his chillingly calm, matter-of-fact delivery.
    • Sam tracking down the Jerkass staffers who sent Ainsley the bouquet of dead flowers (with a note that says "Bitch") and promptly ripping them a new one (and then firing them).
    • Showing the President any sign of disrespect is a good way of instantly pissing off any member of the senior staff.
  • Betty and Veronica: The relationship between Josh, Amy (Veronica), and Donna (Betty).
  • Bilingual Bonus: Bartlet speaks untranslated Latin in "Two Cathedrals." Abbey also states that he speaks four languages - two of which are English and Latin and none of which are French, although it is never revealed what the other two are.
  • Black Dude Dies First: One of the first characters to die in the series is Morris Tolliver (played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson), a U.S. navy officer and the president's physician. He's killed when his plane en route to a medical clinic in Amman, Jordan is shot down.
  • Blatant Lies: Sam's description of the White House and Roosevelt Room in the pilot is hilariously wrong, and he's winging it the whole while. Also, Josh trying to explain how he didn't say there was a "secret plan to fight inflation" to the Press Corps.
    Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear, I did not do that. Except, yes, I did that.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Trope Namer. Bartlett uses this phrase when telling Ainsley Hayes this is not the reason the White House hired her.
  • Blown Across the Room: Averted in the couple of episodes where there is a shooting.
  • Bodyguard Crush: C.J. and Secret Service agent Simon Donovan after she gets death threats.
  • Bottle Episode: "17 People", which was actually the result of the show spiralling over budget and needing to do an entire episode on the regular set without any guest stars. This would happen at least once a season, though 6 and 7 had more because of the election campaign, which demanded more location shooting.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: "Just remember these two things: She's nineteen years old, and the 82nd Airborne works for me." And that's the suitor for his daughters that the President likes best!
  • Break the Cutie: The process of telling Donna that Josh has been shot and is in critical condition. It's made all the worse by the fact that she was so relieved that the President was safe mere moments before.
  • Brick Joke: The President is introduced in the Pilot episode after having ridden into a tree on a bicycle (that Leo lent him) with a cane. At the end of the series, upon leaving office, he mentions that with his free time he'd like to ride a bicycle some more and, as a result of his worsening MS, he once again requires a cane to walk.
  • Buffy Speak: A favorite of many senior staffers. Sometimes justified; Toby will name every punctuation mark in the English language from memory in another and then warn against "The wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing!" since he just finished writing both the acceptance and concession speeches. More than once he was shown to become mentally frazzled after big speeches or high stress moments.
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: There is a shooting at the end of the Season 1 finale. At the beginning of Season 2, it is revealed that the President was shot in the abdomen and sustained fairly minor injuries, while Josh suffered a bullet wound to the chest which lacerated a major artery and very nearly killed him.
  • Bulungi: Equatorial Kundu.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
    • Dear lord, Lionel Tribbey... for one, he's the page quote for the trope.
    • Oliver Babish (whose first episode was pretty clearly written to be Lionel Tribbey, but John Larroquette wasn't available, so they recast and renamed the character).
    • At the time of the President's second inaugural, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court begins writing opinions... in verse. After having proposed that the court wear powdered wigs.
    • Bartlet himself.
    • Lord John Marbury is probably the most overtly buffoonish character in the series (and that's saying something), yet he is an extremely insightful international diplomat whose advice is invaluable to the Bartlet administration.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": Done a couple of times in "Celestial Navigation":
    Toby: She called him a racist.
    Josh: She didn't use that word.
    Toby: What word did she use?
    Josh: Well, yes, she used that word.

    President Bartlet: You told the press I have a secret plan to fight inflation?
    Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear, I did not do that. Except, yes, I did that.
  • Call-Back:
    • In the fourth season, Sam's running for Congressman in California, and Toby is helping with his campaign. Toby gets into a fight with a guy at a restaurant when the man gets physically threatening towards Andrea, and after he's booked, he calls in to Air Force One about it, using a cell phone that apparently belongs to a hooker, referencing Sam's history with Laurie in Season 1 when Sam admonishes him for it.
      Sam: So on a call girl's phone bill, there's going to be a call to Air Force One?
      Toby: You're really going to be teaching the seminar on call girl caution? Really?
    • In season 6 Josh has trouble with his hotel keycard and Donna has to help him, just like in Season 1's "20 Hours in L.A.", although now Donna is no longer his assistant and they are working on opposing campaigns. Ouch.
    • In the same episode, "King Corn," Josh admonishes Santos for alienating voters and sarcastically suggests that he next tell North Dakota that South Dakota has a cooler name. Josh sent Donna to hear the North Dakota Democratic Party's case to drop the "North" from their name four years earlier making the episode all that more painful given their awkward reunion.
    • The series finale has a callback to the very first episode. The First Lady suggests the president may have "re-entry" problem after leaving office, rhetorically asking when the last time was he drove a car. He suggests that it's "just like riding a bike, only more horsepower." Of course, in the pilot, a major plot point is the president having ridden his bicycle into a tree.
    • The finale also has a callback involving the deceased Leo. As President Bartlet is about to leave office, Leo's daughter Mallory gives him a wrapped gift. He unwraps it on the plane, to discover it is the framed "Bartlet for America" napkin that Leo had written before the first campaign, that the President had given to Leo as a gift a couple seasons back
    • Josh gives a lovely Meaningful Echo in Bartlet for America to Leo's heartwarming speech from Noël:
      Josh: I'm gonna help you out and you know why?
      Leo: Because you're so obsessed with everyone you love dying that you're a compulsive fixer?
      Josh: No, because there's this guy walking down the street and he falls into a hole, see.
    • Much more tragically, there are several callbacks involving Josh and the people he cares about dying.
      • When Leo dies at the end of Season 7, Donna tells him that he (Leo) was "so proud" of him. In a flashback to the night Josh's father dies, many years earlier, Josh and the President have a conversation about how Josh's father was proud of him and the work he did - using almost the same words that Donna does.
      • Related to that, the timing of Leo's death is eerily similar to the timing of Josh's father's, given that they both died on or around a massive win for Josh's campaign. He lost a father figure on a day that he should have been celebrating - twice.
      • Josh tells the President that his father died of a pulmonary embolism - the same thing Donna develops when Josh returns to her hospital room and discovers that she has been rushed into surgery and is once again in critical condition.
        Doctor: There's been a complication. She ( Donna) developed a pulmonary embolism. It's a-
        Josh: (cutting him off, fearfully) A blood clot.
  • The Cameo:
  • Canon Discontinuity: A unique example where an episode is intended to be this in production: "Isaac and Ishmael" was produced as a Very Special Episode in response to 9/11, and held up the return of the series proper for a week: Bradley Whitford states a disclaimer before the episode starts that the episode is a "play" and viewers shouldn't try to wrack their heads about where it takes place in the timeline, because it doesn't. It has the characters acting like they would generally, but not specific to any point in time. It can be considered to have happened in Season 2 if you have to place it somewhere, as Mandy is absent and the cliffhanger of Season 1 is referenced.
    • The episode "Access" was quietly dropped from continuity, easy to do since it features C.J.'s staff who appear nowhere else, and she's said to have completed two full terms as press secretary.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Poor, poor, Josh. C.J. and Bartlet as well, although that's only because its in their job descriptions.
  • Career-Building Blunder:
    • The pilot episode of has Josh get this treatment from Pres. Bartlet.
    • Leo does it to Paris after she leaks his former drug habit.
  • Captain Obvious: "C.J., you fell into the pool there."
  • Catchphrase:
    • The phrase "What's next?" floats around the White House, apparently started by Bartlet during their first campaign. Pretty much everyone's said it by the end of the series.
    • Also, "I serve at the pleasure of the President."
    • Anytime someone does not want to tell an outsider what is going on, they claim "It's about the trade deficit."
  • Caught on Tape: Invoked in one episode; after Bartlet basically calls Governor Ritchie, the Republican candidate for president, an idiot during a break in a live interview which he apparently doesn't realise is being recorded, the Ritchie campaign starts making a big deal about how disgraceful the insult is. At one point, one of the campaign spokesmen states that if Bartlet thinks Ritchie is stupid, he should come right out and say so. Deeply amused, C.J retorts that said spokesman is probably not going to last very long at the campaign if he suggests that Bartlet should come right out and call his candidate an idiot.
    • Code to get someone to immediately stop whatever they're doing, come quickly, and don't ask questions, a character would make a casual reference to an "old friend from home."
    • And Josh wouldn't be Josh without "DONNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!".
    • And Leo wouldn't be Leo without "MAR-GARET!". Some fans actually started a "Leo yells for Margaret" drinking game.
    • In what may be an odd case of Buffy Speak coming from generally very intelligent people working at the White House, nearly any situation, regardless of complexity, is simply described as a "thing".
      Toby: "So, there's gonna be a thing", informing others that a senior staffer had written a memo detailing their own failings, and it has leaked to the press.
      Josh: "This isn't a thing!", assuring Sam and Toby that he'll be fine with Joey Lucas, on whom he had a minor crush, coming to work at the White House.
      Sam: "So, here's a thing...", pointing out the technicality that the Speaker of the House hadn't yet invited the President to give the State of the Union address.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • In "20 Hours in L.A." Donna gushes "ooh, Matt Perry" at a Hollywood Party. Matthew Perry later has a guest role as an associate attorney for the White House.
    • In "The Stormy Present" Toby, faced with writer's block after being tasked to write the eulogy for a deceased former president he loathes, gets drunk and ends up singing the lyrics to "Suicide is Painless", the theme to both the film and TV versions of M*A*S*H. The next season introduces us to Senator Arnold Vinick, Republican presidential candidate, played by none other than Alan Alda — aka "TV's Hawkeye Pierce". Presumably in the West Wing universe the TV version is a little different...
  • Chaos of the Bells: Downplayed. At the end of the episode "Noel", a group of Christmas Carolers sing the song, with sirens blaring in the distance as they finish, calling back to Josh's PTSD diagnosis.
  • Character Development: Between seasons 1 and 4, Donna gains self-worth, self-confidence, and political savvy after starting as a naive, insecure, Cloud Cuckoolander Audience Surrogate. Her final path ends up taking her from being someone who conned her way into an assistant position to Chief of Staff of the First Lady. Other characters exhibit development too, but hers is the most dramatic.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The British curator of art in the White House quips that the French "promptly surrendered" after a phone call from C.J. regarding art stolen by Vichy Nazis.
  • Chess Motifs: Bartlet is an excellent chess player. He plays his staff and occasionally other members of government, foreign and domestic.
  • The Chew Toy: Both played straight and subverted in the case of Josh. He always bounces back like a charm from all his misfortunes, because he's so used to them happening all the time. This very trait of his becomes the reason no one pays enough attention to him after he gets shot to realize he's headed for a full scale mental breakdown, and the fact that he's also a Woobie due to some exceptionally sadistic past uses of this trope cause some misfortunes to veer straight into Tear Jerker territory when they hit the wrong spot.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Martin Sheen mentioned that he asked for his character to be made Catholic because he is. This becomes some minor plot seasoning on more than one occasion, most significantly after Bartlet fails (or chooses not to) to stay an execution. It also evokes JFK nicely. Averted otherwise; when religious leaders come to the White House, more often than not they're of Protestant denominations. This includes the fundamentalist radio show host that Bartlet verbally smacks down.
    Bartlet: Catholics don't believe man is saved through faith alone. Catholics believe faith has to be joined with good works.
    Bartlet's father: You're the only one who seems to mind the service.
    Bartlet: I'm the only one who's Catholic.
    Bartlet's father: You're Catholic because your mother is and you're at this school because I'm the headmaster.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: The entire senior staff (especially Bartlet), who can't for the life of them concede that anything is someone else's problem.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The trope could be renamed Mandy-ville.
    • Certain one-off guest roles were in positions where we should've reasonably expected to see the characters again from time to time, particularly the new chief of staff for the House Majority leader Ann Stark and White House attorney Joseph 'Joe' Quincy.
    • Anthony, the kid that Charlie took over as big brother for in the beginning of season 4, was never mentioned again, but we can probably assume Charlie continued working with him offscreen.
    • Cliff Calley looks like he's going to be an Ascended Extra when C.J. hires him for Josh's old job, but after a few episodes he vanishes.
    • General Alexander, Fitwallace's successor as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, disappears two episodes into Season Six without explanation. In real life, Terry O'Quinn being cast in Lost likely accounts for this.
    • Regular character Sam Seaborn was written out in an odd way. He unintentionally promised to run for a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. New character of Will Baily is written in at the same time. A line of dialog establishes that Will is being promoted to Sam's old position, and that if Sam loses the election, he will return to the White House in a promoted position, to "take the knucklehead stuff off his desk". A further line of dialog from the same character states that Sam is unequivocally going to lose the election. In the next episode, however, neither Sam nor the election are mentioned again. Sam gets one throwaway line about a season later, but other than that, everyone forgets about him.
      • Averted in the last couple episodes of the series, when Josh re-recruits him back to the White House for the new administration, and we learn that Sam, having apparently indeed lost the election, for some reason returned to working for a law firm rather than the White House.
  • Cliffhanger: "Who's been hit?! Who's been hit?!"
    • Season 2 subverts this for those who paid attention to Mrs. Landingham's commentary on Jed's body language, but otherwise plays it straight by ending on, "Mr. President, can you tell us right now if you'll be seeking a second term?"
    • Sorkin's departure episode in Season Four left the next writing team with a (temporary) Republican president, no VP, and Bartlet's daughter kidnapped.
    • Also, Donna goes back into surgery after Fitzwallace is killed.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander:
    • Lord John Marbury, who sort of oscillates between a legit Cloud Cuckoolander -ism and the Obfuscating version.
    • In the early episodes, Donna was written as an clever but very flighty Cuckoolander, until Character Development kicked in around third season.
    • Margaret, Leo's secretary, is a deadpan one of these.
  • Clown School: In one episode, Penn Jillette makes an insightful defense of his flag burning trick. He's asked if he had gone to law school. He responds, "No, clown school."
  • Comes Great Responsibility: President Bartlet. He gets screwed by this on ironic and/or sadistic levels more than once. As an added bonus Martin Sheen would later go on to play the Trope Namer in The Amazing Spiderman (though ironically in that version he never actually utters the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility").
  • Comically Missing the Point: Josh tries to give a thank you speech at the end of the Santos campaign at Lou's insistence, but quickly derails himself into a rant about stupid amateur mistakes and insists everyone call their families to report on conditions at the polls, without ever getting around to the phrase "thank you".
  • Commuting on a Bus:
    • Stockard Channing from season 5 onwards; while her appearances were always sporadic, in the final seasons she's featured in only a handful of episodes each season (though still credited with the regular cast when she appears) and she's often referred to as being on trips or in the Bartlet home in Manchester when not appearing.
    • Richard Schiff (Toby) in the final season; though still a regular, he appears in less than half the season's episodes after it's revealed that he leaked the information on the military space shuttle. Note that most of the original cast were Out of Focus by this time; Toby is distinct given that he was in an entirely separate (largely off-screen) plotline, only occasionally interacting with other main characters.
  • Competence Porn: The series is all about White House staffers coping with world-class political, social, and even historical crises every week. The main cast is also, to the last person, incredibly intelligent, idealistic, and incorruptible, and their political agendas are almost always for the service of their country, and not for their own profit.
  • Completely Unnecessary Translator: The Portuguese/Batak-speaking cook in "The State Dinner". Indonesian deputy Bambang spoke Batak, but the official interpreter from Indonesia only knew Javanese and Portuguese. The cook translated what Bambang said into Portuguese for the interpreter to relay in English. In the midst of this journey to Babel, Bambang says "Why don't we just speak English?" Nobody had bothered to ask him if he knew it.
  • Complexity Addiction: Kate comes to this realisation during the US/Canada border tensions subplot in "A Good Day". Everyone in the Situation Room is so used to dealing with crises that they've gotten themselves rigidly locked into a near-permanent crisis mode. As a result, that what should be a completely inconsequential situation where a bunch of schmucks accidentally get lost while hunting and accidentally wander across a border nearly becomes a war between the United States and Canada, because everyone involved unnecessarily over-complicates the situation by treating it as if it was an illegal military incursion that requires official sabre-rattling, back-channel diplomatic wrangling and a war-footing military build-up.
  • Confessional:
    Father Cavanaugh: [damningly] Jed. Would you like me to hear your confession?
    President Bartlet: Yes. Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: At the end of the series when the Bartlet Administration is winding down, C.J. gets a job offer from a tycoon looking to start a charity and explicitly asks C.J. to suggest something that doesn't come across as Conspicuous Compassion, a subtype of this trope. He asks her to suggest something "not sexy" but still needs to happen; she responds with gravel road infrastructure improvements in the African bush, noting that although it's not as sexy as most of the other aid projects on the surface most of those fail because the infrastructure just isn't in place.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Sam has recurring run-ins with a conspiracy theorist of the "there really were aliens at Roswell and the government is covering it up" variety. He got it from his father.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Landingham, who is disinclined to take any guff from anyone, including the President.
    • Also, Debbie Fiderer.
  • Crossword Puzzle: Leo gives The New York Times crossword hotline an earful for spelling "Qaddafi" (a name often spelled in a number of different ways) incorrectly.
  • Crushing Handshake: This happens so often to presidential candidate Arnold Vinick that he ends up with a fractured hand, making handshakes of any firmness agonizing.
  • Cue the Billiard Shot: In the episode "Manchester Part II," the scenes go from flashback to present. One "present" scene opens with the camera on a pool table in the bar the senior staff is hanging out in.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Bartlet's debate with Ritchie. Ritchie didn't want to debate at all, Bartlet wanted five debates, so eventually they agreed on two; then C.J. thinks that one would be even better because it would have more impact, provided Bartlet was on form. After much preparation, hedging and nerves, Bartlet goes in at the height of his powers and proceeds to run rings around Ritchie, making him look glib, evasive and hopelessly incompetent. Ritchie even admits to Bartlet at the end that he reckons he's lost the election.
  • Curse Cut Short
    First Staffer: We're gonna get to social security, Josh! It's a long campaign. For now, we focus on the tax cuts.
    Second Staff: It's what magicians call "misdirection."
    Josh: Really? 'Cause it's what the rest of us call bullsh-
    Hoynes: Knock it off.

    Doug: He's gotta stand up, and he's gotta declare, and he's gotta apologize... In Oregon, we like to see a man stand up and say he's sorry. Where are you from?
    Toby: Me? I'm from the United States of suck my —
    Josh: All right! Let's take lunch.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Never mind the guys, even the formidable C.J. is cut short mid-rant by the picture of a new mother and her baby.
  • Darker and Edgier: Season Five is a lot more downbeat and gloomy than the previous four seasons, particularly in the first half. The fallout from the cliffhanger of Season Four sends Bartlet into a prolonged Heroic BSoD and creates a rift between him and Abbey, the senior staff spend a lot of time demoralised due to both this and the new Speaker of the House flexing his muscles and smacking them around heavily in the process, and everyone consequently seems to be more cynical and at each other's throats a lot more. While things generally pick up a bit, this is arguably one of the reasons why Season Five is generally less well-received than the other seasons.
  • Dating Catwoman:
    • C.J. and Danny. Although they're not supposed to be exactly enemies, their interests do conflict directly almost all the time, and they're both deeply committed to defending them from each other, so it boils down to the same problem.
    • Donna and Cliff Calley, the Republican lawyer who turns out to be part of the team investigating the President for hiding his MS.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: President Bartlet can't stand Jean Paul or Doug Westin.
    • Subverted with the President's second daughter. It initially appears the husband-to-be is a bumbling, nerve-ridden geek who is marrying his daughter because he accidentally got her pregnant and they need to get married before anyone finds out. However, he manages to impress the President with his impassioned speech about the moment he fell in love with and decided to marry his daughter.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Various characters at different points in the series, including Pres. Bartlet, Josh and Amy Gardner, Toby and Will, C.J. and Danny Concannon, Leo, Margaret, Mrs. Landingham, Kate, Charlie, Zoey... lets just say that "deadpan snark" is practically the default emotive state for anyone associated with the Bartlet administration. Heck, even Donna got in on the act by the end of the series as she gained in self-confidence.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Toby and Andy's daughter, named for the Secret Service agent who was killed during Zoey's kidnapping.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Pres. Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham.
  • Delayed Reaction: Ainsley is so caught up with explaining how awful the Bartlet White House is that it takes her a moment to realize Leo just offered her a job in the administration.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "I'm on hold. I'm on hold. I'm on hold. *bangs phone on table repeatedly* I'm in some kind of hellish hold-world of holding..."
  • Death Glare: The President and Leo gave a few of these.
    (Margaret), look at my face, right now.
  • Determinator: When President Bartlet is on his way to his last summit in China and his MS leaves him paralyzed he still insists that they are going to China. Then he negotiates a North Korea talk while sitting more than twice as long as the Surgeon General recommends and sweating through his suit.
  • Diabolus ex Machina:
    • The episode "18th and Potomac"; Mrs. Landingham spends the entire episode excited about buying her first new car, being hassled by Charlie and President Bartlet about paying the full sticker price, only to be hit and killed by a drunk driver at the end of the episode.
    • The nuclear power plant catastrophe that occurs out of nowhere and completely derails Senator Vinick's presidential campaign halfway through season seven occurs solely to provide a credible way for the election race to suddenly become more or less even after an entire half-season of Vinick being the clear frontrunner and Santos lagging way behind. Although this one's arguably justified, in that it's a reference to several so-called "October surprises", in which Presidential campaigns have been significantly impacted by sudden events that have occurred fairly late in the game.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: During the teaser of "Enemies", Bartlet goes on and on about national parks while he has Josh as a (literally) captive audience.
    Jed: Shenandoah National Park. Right here in Virginia. We should organize a staff field trip to Shenandoah. I can even act as the guide. What do you think?
    Josh: [under his breath but still audible] Good a place as any to dump your body.
    Jed: What was that?
    Josh: Did I say that out loud?
    Jed: See? And I was going to let you go home.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: A weird example, but in the Season 3 episode Dead Irish Writers, Lord John Marbury refers to Lagavulin as a 16 year old Islay single malt. The problem is that he pronounces it "Iz-lay", where the proper pronunciation would be "Aye-lah". As a member of the British aristocracy, he really should know better.
    • Lord John Marbury provides us with another example – he gives his full title as "Lord John Marbury, Earl of Croy, Marquess of Needham and Dolby, Baronet of Brycey", and multiple characters refer to him as "Lord Marbury". Both are incorrect. A marquess outranks an earl and would therefore take priority; and hereditary lords are never referred to by their family name. He should be addressed as Lord Needham.
  • Different States of America: This is in the background; the last real-life President who is identified is Richard Nixon, and the US election rotation is two years off from what it is in the actual world (i.e. President Bartlet was first elected in 1998 and ran for re-election in 2002, instead of 1996 and 2000 respectively).
  • Diplomatic Impunity:
    • This is a major issue during the Shareef arc in season three. Despite having proof that Shareef is connected to a terrorist cell that planned to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge there's little the administration can do because Shareef has diplomatic immunity as the brother of the Sultan of Qumar. Bartlet ends up authorising Shareef's assassination to skirt the immunity.
    • Diplomats in NYC claiming "diplomatic immunity" for their parking tickets. Jed gets dragged into this and ends up yelling "YOU CAN'T PARK THERE" down the phone.
    • Jean-Paul, who's descended from French royalty, demands that he be given diplomatic immunity before revealing who supplied him with the drugs that he slipped to Zoey just before she was kidnapped.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The issue is debated in "A Proportional Response".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: An intellectual, Catholic Democrat from New England becomes President with a womanizing Texas senator as his running mate.
  • Dramatic Drop/Slow-Motion Drop: Bartlet after hearing that his daughter has been kidnapped.
  • Dumb Is Good: Subverted at length. Beaten to a pulp, in fact.
    Bartlet: In the future, if you're wondering, "Crime. Boy, I don't know" is when I decided to kick your ass.
    E to I 
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • In a very early episode, Sam cracks "Like we don't have enough trouble with the First Lady and her ouija board," a reference likely inspired by Nancy Reagan's fondness for astrology and setting up the idea that the First Lady is a bit of a flake. Then Abbey actually shows up, played by Stockard Channing, and she's a smart, savvy, no-nonsense doctor with not a hint of flakiness about her.
    • The staff being rounded up in the Oval Office because the building isn't secure? Very characteristic. Them spending the previous hour collectively idling away their time with trivia and poker with the President? Not so much.
    • The president tells some representatives of the Christian right to "get your fat asses out of my White House." Later, he's generally a lot more sophisticated. Still pretty satisfying, and arguably justified.
    • A Secret Service agent draws his gun and tells a guy who'd been harassing Zoe at a bar "Shut up! Swear to God I'll blow your head off" after he's already made the arrest. Ever after, the service is portrayed as an agency with the utmost professionalism and coolness in action. In his defense, the agents had been summoned by their protectee's panic button, and for all they knew these guys were potential kidnappers or something.
    • In "Ellie", the episode in which we are first introduced to the president's middle daughter, several characters refer to her as Eleanor, rather than her nickname Ellie. Every other time she is mentioned or appears people only ever call her Ellie.
    • Hoynes has a (bad) Texas accent in one episode of Season One. Thankfully, it was never repeated.
    • In early Season One, staff meetings with the president in The Oval Office usually had a handful of extras standing around in the background (presumably these were the rest of the president's senior staff). After about halfway through the season, this was done away with and meetings were just our regulars thereafter.
    • During the first season C.J.'s office is next to Josh's. Starting with the second season it suddenly moves to the opposite side of the bullpen, so their office doors are facing each other.
  • Election Day Episode: Naturally a big deal is made of the re-election of President Bartlet in season 4, and the election of his successor in the final season, with election-day episodes ending long campaign-trail story arcs.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: The White House receives many foreign dignitaries, all of them world-class politicians even if they speak little to no English. Of note is the accomplished but beleaguered President Nimbala of Kundu, who will shut you down the instant you treat him like some mad warlord, and the Russian diplomat played by Ian McShane who doesn't know what 'frumpy' means, but knows 'onomatopoeia'.
  • Embarrassing First Name: People rarely use C.J.'s full name, which is Claudia Jean.
    • Bartlet, of course, does so on several occasions, likely just to bug her.
    • There's also Admiral Percy Fitzwallace. No wonder everyone calls him "Fitz" instead.
    • "Jed" Bartlet. His real name is Josiah Edward Bartlet.
  • Epic Fail:
    • Sam has to give "Leo's daughter's fourth-grade class" a tour of the White House. He tries to bluff his way through and tells the kids that the Roosevelt Room—the one with the giant picture of Theodore Roosevelt—is named for F.D.R. who is apparently now the eighteenth president.note  When the teacher pulls him aside and he relates his terrible bad day, including "accidentally slept with a call girl", he asks who Leo's daughter is so he can at least try to make her smile.
    • "Celestial Navigation." Josh filling in for C.J. after she has an emergency root canal, trying to be smug and superior to people who are really good at twisting words. Here are a few of the reactions:
      Bartlet: Are you telling me that not only did you invent a secret plan to fight inflation, but now you don't support it?
      Toby: Have you fallen on your head? Have you fallen down and hit your head on something hard?
      CJ: What the heww happened in thewe? You compwetewy impwoded! You wewe vague, you wewe howstiwe, you wewe bewwigewent!
  • Epiphany Therapy: There's a scene near the end of "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" that's very similar to this trope. Although it doesn't involve a deep-seated psychological hangup and it's the President who's repeating his newfound mantra while Leo coaches him along rather than a psychologist with an Armor-Piercing Question, it does have the distinct feel of a personal epiphany that will change Bartlet's approach to governing for the rest of his Presidency.
    President Bartlet: I want to speak.
    Leo McGarry: Say it out loud, say it to me.
    President Bartlet: This is more important than re-election; I want to speak now.
    Leo McGarry: Say it again.
    President Bartlet: This is more important than re-election; I want to speak now.
    • Josh's therapist in Noel forces him to acknowledge that he has PTSD from his being shot. It's made very clear that Josh isn't cured and will need follow-up therapy.
  • Episode Discussion Scene: There's one before the first post-9/11 episode, explaining that the episode that follows doesn't take place in continuity and is to be thought of as a stand alone play.
  • Episode on a Plane: Several episodes take place partially or entirely on Air Force One.
  • Escalating War: Charlie & C.J. battle over Charlie's attitude regarding a copy of the President's schedule.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first episode has several:
  • Even the Girls Want Her: In season six, Toby gets a meeting with the Miss World winner and everyone is dropping by his office with painfully transparent excuses just to drop by. Then Margaret shows up with absolutely no excuse.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Josh is trying to find a way to remove an anti-environmental amendment from a hard-fought banking bill, when Donna calls the computer files on the subject antiquated. He brings the President the solution - declare the land in question a National Park by the Antiquities Act.
  • Everybody Is Single: Literally everybody who isn't actually President of the U.S.A., i.e. the Bartlet and Santos families (the latter of whom are consistently shown to be young and vital).
    • Somewhat justified in that Vice President Hoynes and Chief of Staff Leo started out the series married, but eventually got divorced (due in one case to infidelity and in the other job-related lack of attention), and Flashbacks reveal that Toby also got divorced prior to the start of the series.
  • Evil Gloating: An inversion. Secret Service agent Donovan is so busy gloating about how stupid a hood is to try to rob a store within a few blocks of where the President is that he never notices that the guy he's caught has a partner.
  • The Exit Is That Way: Ainsley, who finds a closet is not a bathroom.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Happens a lot. One of the most notable is when Charlie mentions filling out a family medical history form for entering college and realizes that Zoey may have left Bartlet's MS off her paperwork at Georgetown, which would be the key to a possible criminal indictment against the President.
  • Expospeak Gag: Dr. Abbey Bartlet gets to do these with medicine.
  • Expy:
    • Admiral Fitwallace for Colin Powell.
    • Josh Lyman for Rahm Emanuel.
    • Leo McGarry for Leon Panetta.
    • Matt Santos for Barack Obama.
    • Arnold Vinick for John McCain.
    • C.J. Cregg, initially, for Dee Dee Myers, though Myers never became Chief of Staff.
    • Sam Seaborn for George Stephanopolos.
    • Vice President John Hoynes is something of a veiled Expy of Lyndon Johnson, being a Southern Democrat serving as Vice President to a northern Democratic President with tension existing between the two. Hoynes's complaints of being sidelined and given only the thankless ceremonial busywork to do by Bartlet also mirrors Johnson's disgruntlement at feeling similarly neglected and taken for granted under President Kennedy. He also shares similarities with Al Gore, another Southern Democrat who also felt a bit sidelined by the President he served under.
    • Governor Robert Ritchie for George W. Bush.
    • In one specific episode exploring U.S. foreign policy, two expys for former U.S. presidents are temporarily introduced (though neither are ever referenced thereafter). Bartlet travels to the state funeral of Owen Lassiter, seemingly based on Ronald Reagan (Lassiter was a right-wing two-term Republican from southern California, who controversially propped up foreign dictatorial regimes - the episode aired about 6 months before Reagan's actual death). Joining him for the trip is D.W. Newman, a Jimmy Carter expy (Newman is a Democrat, spent his one term in office dealing with problems in the Middle East, and has become outspokenly liberal in retirement). Lassiter also appears to have some Nixon qualities, and his state funeral is based on the one held for Nixon on his death in 1994.
    • For that matter, President Bartlet himself is basically an expy of Bill Clinton with some of John F. Kennedy's character traits thrown in, and with the tendencies towards infidelity both men had removed. Abbey Bartlet is correspondingly First Ladies Hillary Clinton (with similar elements of Jackie Kennedy in the mix as well).
  • Failed Attempt at Drama:
    • After the President's complete smackdown of homophobic radio host Jenna Jacobs, everyone silently turns and follows him out of the room... except Sam, who steals one of her crab puffs.
    • In Season Two, Sam lampshades this trope with Ainsley Hayes, who undercut an eloquent destruction of some Republican opponents by asking for a muffin.
  • Fake Guest Star: Janel Moloney (Donna Moss) in the first season; she appears in every episode in an increasingly central role. (Recognised when she's Promoted to Opening Credits from the second season onwards)
    • In the final season, the key campaign staff. In particular, Janeane Garofalo (Lou Thornton, Santos' director of communications) and Teri Polo (Helen Santos) appeared in 15 and 14 episodes respectively, in major roles, but were always credited as "Special Guest Star". For comparison, this is more episodes than any of the main cast members apart from Jimmy Smits (Matthew Santos), Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman) or Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg)
  • Fangirl: Josh Lyman's "hos" on In fact, he has college girls asking for his autograph and telling him how awesome he is as early as the third episode.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The President's Doctor shows him the photo of his wife and newborn daughter in episode 2. At the end of the episode we learn that the plane he was flying on with other soldiers to a peace mission has been gunned down by enemy army, sending President Bartlet on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge that almost starts a war.
  • Faux Documentary: One Season 6 episode is a Frontline episode profiling C.J. as the Press Secretary.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: In the pilot, although there are many things occupying Leo's time - including whether Josh will be fired for his remarks towards Mary Marsh, Cuban refugees heading towards the U.S., and a poll showing the President's popularity has sunk - he's also very concerned The New York Times crossword puzzle misspelled Khaddafi's name:
    Leo: (on phone) Seventeen across. Yes. Seventeen across is wrong. You're spelling his name wrong. Who am I? My name doesn't matter. I'm just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I'm telling you that I've met the man twice, and I've recommended a preemptive Exocet Missile attack against his air force, so I think I know how to...
    C.J: Leo!
    Leo: (stares at receiver) They hang up on me. Every time.
    • Ironically despite Leo's protestations to the contrary there is no standard westernised spelling of the former dictator of Libya's name – and when his passport was recovered after his death it contained the comparatively rare variant Gathafi.
    • Lampshaded by Margaret earlier in the episode, when Leo tells her to call the Times:
      Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
      Leo: Apparently, it's neither.
  • Fiction 500: Franklin Hollis is an extremely rich celebrity philanthropist businessman, probably a fictional counterpart to Bill Gates. Although the Montana joke is a reference to Ted Turner, who really does own vast swaths of land in Montana where he raises buffalo for his sustainable restaurant chain.
    Margaret: He just bought an island. And Montana!
    C.J.: He didn't buy Montana, he just bought...most of Montana.
  • Finding Judas: A particularly awesome subversion with Leo's debate preparation.
    • Also subverted when C.J. is tasked by Toby with finding out who leaked information about the President's decision regarding school vouchers, and Donna confesses. She then continues to confess to a series of increasingly improbable crimes, revealing that she was pulling C.J.'s leg.
    • Played straight when the entire staff wonders who leaked national security information regarding a military space shuttle, to save the lives of 4 astronauts. The guilty party turns out to be Toby, who is summarily fired by the President.
  • Flashback: Several episodes intercut a past event with the present storyline.
  • Flash Forward: The start of season 7 begins with a look at Bartlet's presidential library being dedicated.
  • Foreigner for a Day: Donna, in "Dead Irish Writers", hilariously capped off by Bartlet coming into the White House Ballroom to find the Canadian national anthem being played and bellowing "What the hell is going on!? I was gone for forty-five minutes, they were all Americans when I left!"
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Season 1's President Bartlet foreshadows the season 4 finale when he goes on a rant to Zoey in "Mr. Willis of Ohio", about how terrified they are that she will be kidnapped on the way to the bathroom in some bar and nobody will realize she's gone as she's being dragged away so terrified that she doesn't even notice the secret service agents lying on the ground with bullets in their heads. In "Commencement" she's kidnapped on the way to the bathroom in a club and the leader of her protection team doesn't realize what's happened until he finds an agent on the ground out back with a bullet in her head. It probably wasn't planned to be so on-the-money at the time.
    • In the "20 Hours in America" two parter, Josh mentions it's Monday, and Donna relates the story of the song "I Don't Like Mondays" being written after a school shooter gave that as her explanation. At the end of the episode, Tori Amos' cover of the song is played over the aftermath of the news of a bombing at a university.
    • In the episode "A Proportional Response", Charlie's first episode, he mentions about having come to the White House to apply for the bike messenger job, instead of the one he was interviewing for (aide to the President), and Sam responds, "Debbie's got an eye for personnel." This, of course, is Debbie Fiderer, who Charlie lobbies on behalf of to replace Mrs. Landingham in "Posse Comitatus" and the two-part episode "20 Hours in America".
    • In season 4's "Swiss Diplomacy" Hoynes tells Josh he would have been great in Leo's job. Four seasons later Santos makes Josh his chief of staff.
    • Season 6's "The Birnam Wood", when Leo first shows up at Camp David, he asks for an antacid. At the end of the episode, he collapses in the woods of a heart attack. And a few episodes before that, Abbey strongly urges him to get a physical after describing in detail exactly what being under constant stress—like Leo is in his job—does to the body.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: Leo forgets his and Jenny's anniversary, which is the final straw for their marriage.
  • Found Family: For all they often butt heads over politics, what to fight for, and the best way to do things, the main characters will drop everything and go to town on anyone who hurts one of their own.
  • Fox News Liberal: Subverted: both Ainsley Hayes and Arnold Vinnick retain and fight for their conservative views throughout the series, and Ainsley Hayes even changes the minds of the liberals around her from time to time.
  • Framing Device: "Celestial Navigation" has Josh as a guest lecturer somewhere telling a story about the last 36 hours, while waiting to hear from Toby and Sam on the success of the A-plot.
  • French Jerk: Jean Paul, the Prince O' Jerk, who ends up drugging Zoey.
  • Freudian Excuse: Inverted all over the place (in a series this idealistic, no one is actually a villain. Except Haffley.).
    • President Bartlet – His father was an abusive prick jealous of his own son's intellect.
    • Leo – He's haunted by his service in Vietnam.
    • Sam – He realised one day he was about to become the worst kind of corporate lawyer.
    • Toby – His father was a murderer.
    • Josh – His sister died in a fire while he ran outside.
  • Freudian Slip: A number of examples.
  • From Bad to Worse: A staple of the show. Any problem (and sometimes not even a problem) introduced and joked over in the teaser has a 80% chance of worsening to a point somewhere between "huge tangled mess" and "soul-destroying tragedy".
    Toby: Look, it's not going to be a big deal.
    Sam: Isn't that what we always say right before it becomes a big deal?
  • Gay Conservative: Josh tries and fails to talk a gay Republican into voting against a Defense of Marriage Act Expy.
  • Geeky Turn-On:
    • The President showing off for the First Lady on election night, which she calls "hot nerd talk".
      • Leo is then shown to be using the exact same lines on Jordan.
    • In Season 7, when Kate tells CIA analyst Charles Frost about her theory that the Russians are behind the international assassinations he had linked to al Qaeda, Frost, who had previously shown only minimal interest in her very existence, lights up and immediately asks her out for coffee.
  • Genius Ditz: Josh. Poor, poor Josh. Sam and C.J. on occasion as well, but ultimately all three are geniuses much more than they are ditzes.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Bernard Thatch, the English head of the White House visitor's office telling C.J. about a disturbance involving a painting.
    Bernard: Cayou was a contemporary of Corbet, who was considerably more gifted. This is a painting of the cliffs at Etritat, cleverly titled "The Cliffs at Etritat"; it is a minor work. It was on loan from the Musée D'Orsay to the National Gallery. The President, on a visit to the National Gallery, and possessing even less taste in fine art than you have in accessories, announced that he liked the painting. The French government offered it as a gift to the White House, I suppose as retribution for Euro Disney, so here it hangs, like a gym sock on a shower rod.
    C.J.: [amused] You're a snob.
    Bernard: Yes.
  • Genre Shift: The thirteenth episode of the sixth season switches to a mockumentary style to emphasize the shift in focus from the Bartlet administration to the Vinnick and Santos campaigns.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • West Wing likes the variant without an actual cut.
      Josh Lyman: Hey, lunatic lady, trust me when I tell you there is absolutely no way you are going to see the President!
      President Bartlet: [walks in] Hey, Josh.
    • Toby claims "nobody here is checking out!" after CJ accuses them of senioritis-like behavior. Cue Josh walking in and announcing his run flipping tails on a nickel 16 times in a row.
    • An actual cut example occurs when Lloyd Russel attempts to reassure Mandy, despite her familiarity with the White House staff, that they are not gloating over Lloyd removing himself from presidential candidacy. Cut to Josh proclaiming victory is his, declaring he drinks from the keg of victory, and waving his arms triumphantly for applauding staffers.
  • Girl Friday: Donna until she quits working for Josh.
  • Glasses Pull: Josh (also Cool Shades). Bartlet does this with his reading glasses.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Josh's story in the episode "Noel." It's to cover for the fact that he put his hand through the window during a PTSD episode.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: Subverted. Democratic moderates are portrayed as weak and ineffective, stalling their party back. Republican moderates are portrayed as benevolent, though.
  • Good Versus Good: The 2006 presidential election in Season 7. Matthew Santos and Arnold Vinick have differences in values, and the show comes down more on the former's side, but both are unquestionably good men who respect each other.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Robert Ritchie.
  • Government Procedural
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Toby Ziegler is very easy to annoy/anger/enrage. As the man himself once said, "There is literally no one in the world I don't hate right now."
    Toby: Why do you call her my wife?
    Leo: It bothers you.
    Toby: Everything bothers me. But you pick that?
  • Handcuffed Briefcase: CJ's first day as the President's Chief of Staff includes a Republic of Georgia official who's been sent to sell the US a bunch of nuclear materials his country doesn't want anymore, and he has to awkwardly manage the metal briefcase of paperwork that's handcuffed to him. (Despite being a fairly realistic show about the Presidency, though, the nuclear football never makes an appearance.)
  • Hannibal Lecture: In an antagonistic rather than villainous example, Leo gets one of these from black Congressman Richardson when he tries to tell him how many young black men will be saved by signing a gun control bill. Richardson responds that Leo cares more about the White House's political capital than gun control, the bill is ineffective, meaningless, and not worth the paper it's printed on, and...
    Congressman Richardson: In the meantime, please don't tell me how to be a leader of black men. You look like an idiot.
  • Happily Married: Jed and Abbey, which is impressive considering they go through (Jed went back on their MS deal and ran for a second term, she thought he got their daughter kidnapped, etc.) Matt and Helen Santos as well.
  • Head Desk: President Bartlet does this on The Resolute Desk after being tormented for hours by the thrilling tales of an Old Soldier-esque retired diplomat while stuck in the Oval Office waiting on the phone during an international crisis.
    Bartlet: Oh, God, I'm sorry, am I still here?
  • Heart Is Where the Home Is: Zoe is torn between Charlie and Jean-Paul. She and the former are an Official Couple in the early seasons but because of Maligned Mixed Marriage persecution and other issues, they break up. Sometime after, she hooks up with the latter, who unfortunately ends up being a French Jerk involved in her kidnapping. Zoe and Charlie become romantic partners again in the last season.
  • Heroic BSoD: The second season episode "Noel" has Josh undergoing something like this, as it's revealed that he's been suffering from PTSD for three weeks.
    • Sam has a less dramatic one after he discovers his father's infidelities in "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail."
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Ed and Larry (who are also Those Two Guys).
    • The President and Leo.
    • Josh and Sam.
  • He's Back!: "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet": "This is more important than reelection. I want to speak now."
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Leo warns Bartlet about this on a few occasions, most notably after Bartlet is coming apart at the seams over a terrorist attack in "A Proportional Response".
  • High-Class Call Girl: The series opens with Sam's (unpaid!) dalliance with one, and he keeps up a friendship with her through the first season. See also Retroactive Recognition.
  • Holding the Floor: In "The Stackhouse Filibuster" a senator filibusters a health care bill for seven hours.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted with Arnold Vinick, who initially appears to have become an atheist because his wife died but who later explains that he was horrified at certain passages in the Old Testament to the point where he couldn't believe in the Judeo-Christian God any more.
  • Hope Spot: When Toby goes into the Oval Office to hand the President his resignation as a result of the shuttle leak scandal, the President responds that he can't accept Toby's resignation...he has to fire him.
  • Hostage MacGuffin: Zoey Bartlet being kidnapped was feared by characters since the beginning. Their fears were realized in the Season Four finale. She's rescued in the second episode of S5 with next to nothing revealed about who kidnapped her or why though.
  • How We Got Here:
    • "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" shows us how everyone came onboard with the Bartlet campaign.
    • Numerous episodes use this device, starting off with a dramatic scene before the opening titles and coming in with "x days earlier" after the break to explain how things came to that.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Conflicting opinion polls. From Progress Stories:
    Amy: This is what you do; you bounce off the subject.
    A waiter passes by with a platter
    Amy: Ooh! Shrimp!
  • I Am the Trope:
    • Twice in Constituency of One: Josh tells Amy 'I am the Principal's office'. Later, Leo tells CJ 'we are the country'.
    • From "Life on Mars":
      Donna: You don't practice law, is all I was saying.
      Josh: I don't practice law, I help write the laws. I write the laws, I make the laws, I am the law.
  • Iconic Item:
    • A bar napkin. A dinky little bar napkin. A dinky little bar napkin that has "Bartlet For America" in Leo's handwriting on it, highlighting who Leo felt should run for President. And it has a nice frame now.
    • Bartlet's pen. Placed in his pocket every morning by Mrs. Landingham in all the years she worked with him. When he cannot understand why he doesn't have a pen in his pocket after her death, it's Charlie who has to gently point it out to him. He has to get his own pen out of her desk. Now he's really on his own.
    • Gail the goldfish that was given to CJ by Danny Concannon. It was highlighted in multiple episodes and opening credits.
  • Idiot Ball: It's the only explanation for why Sam and Josh thought it would be fine to light a fire in a White House fireplace using some spruce logs that were just lying around the White House and some kerosene.
    • Josh and Toby both grab it hard after Leo's heart attack, to explain why neither of them are getting his job.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Pres. Bartlet regarding his daughter, Zoey.
    Bartlet: Just remember these two things: she's nineteen years old, and the 82nd Airborne works for me.
  • I Have Nothing to Say to That: Sam Seaborn gets his ass verbally handed to him by Blonde Republican Sex Kitten Ainsley Hayes.
  • Informed Ability: Josh's status as a Genius Ditz very often makes light of his political genius whenever he grabs hold of the Idiot Ball for the sake of funny. Like his secret plan to fight inflation.
    • There is a moment when Josh admits to Amy that, in spite of his numerous academic and even political accomplishments, his I.Q. doesn't exactly "break the bank", and that he made up for it in school by studying all the time instead of learning how to interact with other people.
  • Informed Attractiveness:
    • C.J. Many men on the show fall all over themselves singing paeans to the character's sexiness. This could potentially be explained by exceptional charisma.
    • Josh Lyman. Far more than C.J., by the way; he's shown to have fangirls and and a fan website devoted to him where members report "sightings," on top of the multiple love interests he gets across the series.
      • It's particularly interesting that Josh is generally portrayed as the most attractive male member of the crew, in a group that includes Sam, played by heart-throb Rob Lowe. While this can be explained by the fact that Josh is a bit more extroverted and charismatic than the often nerdy and awkward Sam, there's still a stark disparity between the amount of time spent on Josh's love life and the amount spent on Sam's.
      • This becomes subverted by the end of the show with numerous characters commenting much to Josh's chagrin on how his boyish looks have faded due to the stress of running a presidential campaign (even Josh himself describes his hairline at the end of season seven as more routed than receding, "like Napoleon out of Moscow").
    • In The Wake Up Call, Miss World visits the White House and brings to a standstill the business of every male that crosses her path. Mainly because it's utterly hilarious.
  • Informed Attribute: Josh and C.J. tell Danny that C.J. loves goldfish - meaning the crackers - but they are only seen in her presence once, briefly, in a flashback. It's possible she felt continuing the habit would be disrespectful to Gail, the pet goldfish Danny gave her.
  • In Medias Res: It's common for episodes to start in the middle of the story and work back to How We Got Here.
  • Insistent Terminology: Political maneuvering involves a lot of this.
    • Episode 2x11, "The Leadership Breakfast":
      Josh: I see won't be talking about the 993 tax cut.
      Leo: We won't be. But we've agreed to call it "tax relief" instead of a tax cut.
      Josh: We're calling it tax relief?
      Leo: Yeah.
      Josh: But we won't be talking about it.
      Leo: No.
      Josh: Leo, the Patient's Bill of Rights...
      Leo: Which we'll be referring to as the "Comprehensive Access and Responsibility Act."
      Sam: What's the Comprehensive Access and Responsibility Act?
      Leo: It's the Patient's Bill of Rights, but the CARA was introduced in 1999. It's fundamentally the same thing and the Republicans have agreed to discuss changing the name back.
      Josh: In exchange for calling tax breaks "tax relief."
      Leo: Or "income enhancement."
      Toby: Sick people, not getting proper medical care... because they can't afford it... probably don't care that we've agreed to change the name of the bill.
      Leo: We've agreed to discuss changing the name of the bill.
    • In a more serious context, when Bartlet is getting ready to admit that he hid his multiple sclerosis from the voters, he insist that Abbey be referred to as "Mrs. Bartlet" or "the First Lady," not "your wife." Later, Abbey takes it a step farther by telling Babish to call her "Dr. Bartlet," emphasizing her medical credentials.
    • Sam's not writing a birthday card, it's a birthday message.
    • Overlapping with You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious below, do not refer to the President by anything other than his title unless you want a fight:
      Hoynes: Leo, I have had it up to here, with you and your pal! I've been shoved into a broom closet—
      Leo: Excuse me! Me and my "pal"?
      Hoynes: Yes.
      Leo: You are referring to President Bartlet?
      Hoynes: Yes!
      Leo: Refer to him that way.
    • One of the aversions that can be counted throughout the series on one hand occurs when the President and Toby are playing a game of chess in the Oval Office while waiting for news on the crisis du jour. Throughout the game, Bartlet teases Toby good-naturedly about his game until Toby comes back with, "You know, old man, the minute they swear the next guy in, you and me are gonna go 'round and 'round."
    • Early in the first season, Sam insists that people refer to Laurie as a "call girl", not a "hooker". He also gets annoyed when people call her "this girl" or "your friend" instead of using her name.
    • Discussed and subverted for drama in "Take This Sabbath Day", in which Bartlet invites his old parish priest to the White House and, in giving him a tour of the Oval Office, makes a particular point of insisting that while it's okay to refer to him informally as 'Jed' outside the Oval Office, within the Oval Office he's 'Mr. President', explaining that he is forced to make certain decisions within the office as the President that he might not otherwise be able to make as a man, and that using the title helps distinguish this. When the reasons for the President inviting the priest over become clear — Bartlet's guilt over his failure to stay the execution of a convicted murderer despite his personal opposition to the death penalty for political reasons — there's a certain pointedness in the priest's response:
      Priest: Jed, would you like me to hear your confession?
    • Played double straight when while still reeling from the learning about President Bartlet's concealed MS diagnosis, Sam refers to him as simply "Bartlet". Toby immediately calls him on it, "President Bartlet, Sam, come on.". A few scenes later, Sam then passes it on, correcting a political operative who makes the same mistake.
  • Inspector Javert: Danny Concannon, a sweetheart of a reporter for the Washington Post who's crushing on CJ - but still wants to get to the bottom of this "who was in charge after the President was shot?" thing, and the "how did that foreign leader die?" thing.
  • Insufferable Genius: President Bartlet tries not to be this too much. For instance, when C.J. is making him practice handing off Mars questions to NASA scientists instead of answering with all the trivia he may have memorized:
    President Bartlet: Well Stevie, if one of our expert panelists were here, they would tell you the average temperature ranges from 15 degrees to -140.
    C.J. Cregg: That happens to be wrong, it ranges from 60 to -225.
    President Bartlet: I converted it to Celsius in my head.
  • Ironic Echo: In "Requiem", Amy Gardner corners President-Elect Santos at Leo's wake over his noncommittal response to nominating a woman as his replacement Vice President and, in a barely veiled manner, accuses him of being a coward for going for the safe option rather than the better one. Santos then notes that she's refused an offer of a place in his administration; when she replies that she has her own agenda to pursue, he rather pointedly notes that it's easier to fire potshots from the outside than work to meaningfully improve things from the inside. Amy thus finds herself in the position of having to face the same accusation of cowardice / fear she basically levelled at Santos moments before.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Or, to be more exact, Ironic Christmas Carol. In "Noel," it turns out that Josh's PTSD is triggered by the sound of music being played, as it sounds like sirens in his head. As the episode ends, Josh and Donna leave the White House to find a group of people singing "Carol of the Bells" a cappella outside the main gate. It's sung in a clipped, discordant way, with the carolers loudly ringing the bells they're holding and sounding almost robotic.
  • Irrevocable Message: Toby and Will's very sarcastic first draft lambasting the choice of Bob Russell as veep makes it onto the teleprompter. (Fortunately, Russell has a sense of humor about it.)
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Bartlet insults Ritchie while his mic is hot. His staff realizes it was intentional when they note how strange it was for him to use a gun metaphor.
  • Ivy League for Everyone:
    • Not so much everyone; Sam went to Princeton for undergrad, Josh went to Harvard (though he wears a Wesleyan shirt at one point), and Ainsley went to Harvard Law. Those who didn't attend Ivy League schools generally went to elite non-Ivy institutions: Bartlet attended Notre Dame and did graduate work at the London School of Economics, while CJ went to Cal-Berkeley and Donna went to Wisconsin-Madison.
      • This is addressed in a first season episode comparing two candidates for the Supreme Court. One attended Princeton and Harvard Law, the other took law classes at night from City University of New York. They go with the CUNY grad.
    • Toby's the vaguest educationally, but we know he went to CCNY (City College of New York) when a Supreme Court justice gave a speech there and he mentions he was a student.
    • Played with in the third season. Ainsley complains that the White House is full of Ivy League elitist Democrats, before Sam points out that Notre Dame, Bartlet's alma mater, isn't in the Ivy League. He then points out that Ainsley herself attended Harvard Law. We also learn that she attended Smith Collegenote .
      • Bartlet's Republican opponent attended the University of Florida, but the administration and media still heavily question his education, implying that Ainsley may've had a point.
    • Truth in Television to some extent: the ranks of government are packed with Ivy League policy majors.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Leo invokes the trope name almost word-for-word in response to a request by NASA for more funding.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl
    Josh: Toby, come quick! Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl!
    Toby: Ginger, get the popcorn!

    J to R 
  • Jerkass: While the show took pains to paint most political figures as complex and sympathetic and meaning well, some achieve jerk status:
    • Speaker Haffley. As close to a Strawman Political as the show gets.
    • Vice President Hoynes for his personal failings such as infidelity, but also because he's so calculating he rarely stands for anything (why former aide Josh defected to Bartlet). During the 2006 campaigns he still thinks he can wrangle the Democratic nomination from either Russell or Santos when the convention is deadlocked but Hoynes foolishly schemes his way out of contention.
    • Secretary of Defense Miles Hutchinson is another good example. The number of times he's mentioned or acts as an antagonist far outweigh the times he is helpful.
    • And of course, the French Jerk Jean Paul.
    • Conservative Christian pundit Mary Marsh.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Toby starts out like this. He softens up a bit over the course of the show. Josh to some extent as well.
    • Vice President Hoynes was usually portrayed as a scheming backstabber, but occasionally revealed a more likable side, such as sympathetically inviting Leo to his AA meetings when Leo's pill addiction was about to break the news, and admitting to the President that, despite the tension between them, he'd always liked Bartlet more than he let on.
  • Kicked Upstairs: In a hilariously convoluted strategy, Toby and Sam have to transfer a series of ambassadors from one nation to another to open up a space in the Federal Election Committee for Bartlet's to insert his own nominees.
  • Landmark Declaration Gambit: In the first season episode "Enemies", a banking bill the White House is backing hits a temporary snag when the Republicans attach a land-use rider allowing strip-mining in Montana. Mandy, Sam and eventually even Toby thinks they should swallow the amendment and move on, but Josh, who had been lectured to by President Bartlet the previous night about national parks, doesn't want to give in to the Republicans, and at the last minute comes up with the idea of declaring the area in question (Big Sky Reserve) a national park, meaning it can't be touched.
  • Landslide Election: Bartlet wins his second election quite handily, although his own party denigrates it as a "lonely landslide" because Bartlet has no coattails. Averted for Santos and Vinick, who are both waiting tensely to make a concession call as their election comes down to the last few electoral votes.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: A season 1 episode has Bartlet debate whether or not to stay the execution of a death row inmate who has a credible justification for it. Bartlet lets the execution happen.
    • A similar situation in the series finale, where Bartlet is ruminating on whether or not to pardon Toby up to the last minutes he's legally able to do so.
  • Last-Name Basis: Mrs. Landingham.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • In the episode "The Women of Qumar," Bartlet tells Charlie he should only take courses on ancient and medieval history because "modern American history is just television."
    • In the episode Debate Camp, when Josh and Sam are trying to find a room where a meeting is being held, Sam suggests they talk while they walk, Josh comments that they "may as well get used to having meetings in the corridors, it may be our only hope."
    • Lampshaded in the fifth season when Josh and Donna are being followed by Ryan, who asks "do you always walk this fast" before falling over.
    • In "Internal Displacement," Will says he's unable to deceive the press: "I can't act! I'm a terrible actor!"
  • Left Hanging: About a dozen subplots were simply and unceremoniously dropped when Sorkin left the show, the most notable being the fate of Sam Seaborn, last seen waging a losing campaign for Congress. Although Sam eventually did come back for the last few episodes, it never was explained why his promotion to Senior Counselor (decided on in the two-parter "Inauguration") never happened.
  • Leno Device: Jay appears in an episode that takes place at a Hollywood fundraiser.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse:
    • Mallory tells Sam "you are so exactly like him" when Sam insists on perfecting an assignment Leo gave him to sabotage their date, rather than going out for coffee with the two of them. Any potential squickiness is avoided when Sam sincerely calls that the nicest thing she's ever said to him.
    • When Bartlet complains about Zoe's French Jerk boyfriend, Debbie says that "daughters look for their fathers" to tease him.
  • Little "No": Leo, to Will Bailey when the three campaign managers can't stop bickering and maneuvering.
    Will: Well I'd like a day to go over this.
    Leo: No.
    [Beat. Everyone gets to work.]
  • Live Episode: "The Debate." It was done twice for east coast and west coast. The west coast version is the one usually used on re-runs and streaming, since Jimmy Smits' performance is better on the second run.
  • Logical Fallacies: Specifically, CJ thinks Bartlet lost Texas because he made a joke about their "big hats" before the primaries, an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Bartlet was doomed in Texas since the day he learned Latin.
  • Ma'am Shock: Mrs. Santos suffers and discusses this with Donna at the end of the campaign.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The main senior staff nominally work in the policy and communications departments of the White House, but over the course of the series we often see them deeply involved in and advising on matters outside of these areas, including law enforcement, military, economic and diplomatic issues. While it can be justified (the administration would have to devise policy in a wide range of areas and would have to efficiently communicate these policies from the White House), at times it can stretch credibility; for instance, in Season 6 several of these characters are intimately involved in a summit involving an Israeli/Palestinian peace settlement, with little involvement from anyone from the State Department (which would normally handle and advise the president on such high-profile diplomatic affairs).
  • Mamet Speak: Minus the swearing, since it was network television.
  • Manly Tears: A great many times. "That was awfully nice of you," certainly comes to mind.
    • Almost every major character has a moment of this after Leo's death.
  • Married to the Job: Basically everybody, some worse than others. Quite a bit of Truth in Television; working at the White House is known to consume every ounce of a person's attention, skills, and often passion, leaving very little time or energy for anything else, like family. Notable examples:
    • Leo, to the point where it breaks up his actual marriage in Season 1, and nearly kills him with a heart attack in Season 6. There's a particularly compelling moment where Leo defends himself by saying that "this is the most important thing I'll ever do," his wife says that it's not more important than his marriage and he shoots back that, "yes, it is....right now, for these few years, yes, this is more important than my marriage."
    • C.J. by the end of the show; she has to be beaten over the head with a stick to even consider that she may want to not keep doing this forever, and make some time to learn to let other people into her life.
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    • Depending on your reading of the line, Hutchinson when CJ asks about the military space shuttle.
      C.J. Cregg: Is that the argument in favor of building it, or is that the argument in favor of not building it? Or is that the argument in favor of building it and not telling anyone?
      Secretary Hutchinson: The answer to that would be yes.
    • Subverted in the pilot, when Leo asks Margaret to call The New York Times crossword section to complain about how they spelled Khaddafi's name:
      Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
      Leo: Apparently it's neither.
  • Mauve Shirt: Named Secret Service agents. Two of them die; Simon Donovan and Molly, Zoe's second personal agent.
  • Meaningful Funeral: A scene in "Two Cathedrals" for Mrs. Landingham and the opening of "Requiem" for Leo.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Repetition of lines within a conversation is used a lot for dramatic impact, especially in the Sorkin seasons. The common formula is for Joe to suddenly throw out something profound as if just realizing it, Bob to say "what was that?", and Joe to repeat the line more dramatically/reflectively. An alternate version has Joe make some statement and Bob repeat it solemnly as if the impact of the situation has just sunk in.
      Josh Lyman: We talk about enemies more than we used to.
      President Bartlet: What?
      Josh Lyman: [sounding sadder] We talk about enemies more than we used to. I wanted to mention that.
    • A week before the election, Santos is on a rapid fire tour of several states a day. The press keeps asking him "who do you like in the game this weekend?" and he answers "Philly and New York both strong teams, should be a great game." After the first time he asks "we are in Pennsylvania, right?" After the third time, Donna tells him "we're in Ohio" (he covers with a quick "go Buckeyes!").
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded
    "His name is really Mr. Cravenly?"
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: 'the watchword of all mankind.' When Toby says it doesn't mean anything, Will says it doesn't matter because it sounds noble.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The ending theme music (originally planned to be the opening theme music before they decided to go with something more "dignified") is a jaunty little tune. It was almost never actually heard by the broadcast audience, as the end credits tended to be covered by NBC's promo of some other show. Still, given how most episodes end, it can be quite jarring to hear it after a dramatic ending on DVD or in syndication.
    • In "Five Votes Down", Leo rushing around to arrange a romantic dinner and gift to make up for forgetting his wife's anniversary is treated with the typical humor. Then, when he gets home, his wife tells him that the anniversary is just the straw that broke the camel's back and she wants a divorce.
  • Mr. Exposition: Mentioned in the special features as a necessary evil in order for the audience to even understand what happens.
  • Murder, Inc.: "Holy Night" reveals that Toby's father Jules worked for the actual Murder Incorporated around the time Toby was born. Jules has long since given up that line of work and gone straight, but Toby clearly struggles with his father's past.
  • Murphy's Bullet: In "In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen, Part 1", a gang of white supremacists attempts to shoot Charlie because they dislike the fact he's dating the President's daughter. They miss him entirely but succeed in shooting the President and Josh. As you might expect, the Secret Service takes a dim view of this. Justified, however; the shooters were firing at the presidential motorcade from a high-rise building using handguns, which are notoriously unreliable at a distance if you're trying to hit a specific target.
  • Musical Trigger:
    • Josh's PTSD reaches critical during the Christmas season because of all the bands playing in the White House.
    • It's given a small Call-Back in season four, when a gunman shoots at the outside of the White House and Josh discusses it with an applicant to the Counsel's office:
      Joe: You know, I though I heard what sounded like gunshots when we were talking before, but I didn't... Did you hear the shots?
      Josh: No, but I heard a brass quintet playing "The First Noel," so I just assumed somebody somewhere was locked and loaded.
    • This callback is actually inverted, as Josh's actual PTSD symptom has him interpreting music as sirens, rather than the sound of an emergency (gunfire) being interpreted as music.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Seems to be default stance of almost every character: Republicans and Democrats most often treat each other as a Worthy Opponent, at least to each other's faces. Notably the case between Vinick and Santos in the last two seasons, but there are plenty of other examples.
    President Josiah Bartlet: We agree on nothing, Max.
    Senator Lobell: Yes, sir.
    President Josiah Bartlet: Education, guns, drugs, school prayer, gays, defense spending, taxes - you name it, we disagree.
    Senator Lobell: You know why?
    President Josiah Bartlet: Because I'm a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist.
    Senator Lobell: Yes, sir. And I'm a gun-toting, redneck son-of-a-bitch.
    President Josiah Bartlet: Yes, you are.
    Senator Lobell: We agree on that.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: It takes a little back and forth for Bruno to convince Vinick that yes, this is not a joke, the briefcase he just slapped on the table really does belong to their opponent in the presidential election two weeks away.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Donna's first day in the White House.
  • The Nicknamer: CJ, in spades. Especially towards Charlie.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted in "The Ticket", when Josh interrupts a Walk and Talk to point out a bathroom to extremely busy presidential candidate Matt Santos.
    Helen Santos: You don't think that's micromanaging?
    Josh Lyman: He went, didn't he?
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Okay, so the show took place before Obama vs. McCain in 2008. But it's possible that Bartlet was based on Bill Clinton, House Speaker Haffley was based on Newt Gingrich, and his Senate counterpart on Bob Dole.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • The NBC character bio of Vinick said that he was born in New York before moving to California as a kid. This was probably a Hand Wave to explain why Alan Alda makes no attempt to tone down his thick New York accent, despite his character hailing from Southern California.
    • John Hoynes is from Texas. Tim Matheson's accent is from Southern California.
      • To be fair Tim Matheson did attempt a Texan accent in season one. It's less not even bothered and more really couldn't do it convincingly so decided not to try.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • "We already have enough trouble as it is with the First Lady and her Ouija Board."
    • In "Bartlet's Third State Of The Union", there's a running subplot about a cop invited to the speech at the last minute (who it turns out has a brutality citation on his record) for an act of heroism that is never explicated, apart from being "the thing at the elementary school".
    • In "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics," Charlie's conversation with the soon-to-be former ambassador to Bulgaria causes the imperiled man to say defensively that he resigned his membership in a country club where Charlie used to work, based on their exclusionary policies — implied to mean that they did not accept blacks as members — at which point Charlie notes wryly that these supposed objections did not keep the man from joining the club in the first place (and hence implying that the withdrawal was more for show than out of genuine offense at racism).
    • In Gone Quiet, Josh is dictating a note, in which he apologizes to a congressman for an incident whose details are never made clear. What we know is that Donna felt it necessary to call the Park Police. On a group of 50 seniors. One of whom poured Wheatina on her keyboard.
  • Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: The President stops short before entering his private dining room with Leo, with whom he's planning to enjoy the work of a famous French chef.
    Jed: They thought I was gonna be eating with Abbey, so, we'll just, you know, pretend there's no candlelight.
    Leo: [dryly] And that we're not paranoid homophobes in any way.
  • Now You Tell Me: Toby has a meeting with an Indonesian official in "The State Dinner", and Donna arranges a state department translator. Unfortunately there are 742 languages and dialects spoken in Indonesia, and the translator's and official's are incompatible. At this discovery, they go to great lengths to find someone who can speak to the man, eventually finding a cook, who sadly does not speak English but does know Portuguese, which the translator speaks. They're several minutes into a double-translated conversation before the official finally suggests they just speak in English. One wonders why he didn't just tell the translator he knew it in the first place, but he was pretty pissed at Toby so perhaps he just enjoyed seeing White House staff running around cluelessly.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Surprisingly, the Nobel-prize winning President Bartlet himself. He makes a remark deprecating his opponent's intellect seemingly unaware that his camera is still hot, simply because he knows that the other side will handle the inevitable flap badly, and he can steer the public discourse towards intellect as a precondition for public office for the low price of a basic apology. It works so well that later, when he casually accepts a gift of a flag of the Taiwanese independence movement, his chief of staff immediately wonders whether he wants to engineer a reversal on the point, and whether to bring in the secretary of state.
    • The show kind of goes back and forth on this with Bob Russell, the undistinguished Congressman foisted on Bartlet as his vice president in season five. He's introduced with the reputation as a genuine moron, but he gives some reason to believe that it's a reputation he deliberately cultivates and he's secretly much smarter than he lets on. But the show never really develops the thread consistently, so Russell tends to come off as mostly dim-witted, with very occasional moments of insight.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: While the show has an idealistic image of those public servants who are individually important, it does not shy away from lampooning the hell out of the entrenched, glacial, irrational bureaucracy of the federal departments.
  • Off the Rails: During the final election arc, a recurring plot point are near-impossible debate negotiations between the two campaigns (eventually solved by Santos and Vinick themselves in a private moment). Then, the campaigns draw up a complicated set of debate rules—and, at Vinick's instigation, he and Santos promptly abandon them less than a minute in to have a spirited, hour-long argument about their policies.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Charlie upon hearing "evening, Charlie". From the President. After leaving the first daughter's room. In the middle of the night, with his shirt unbuttoned.
    • Leo goes through most of “Bad Moon Rising” making the case that the President never withheld information about his MS in any way that would constitute a crime. But Charlie points out that the President's daughter Zoey was a minor when she filled out a college medical form, and so required a parent's legally binding signature as to the accuracy of the information, including her family medical history. Cue Leo's oh crap moment.
      • Leo has more than the normal amount of Oh Crap moments, simply because he is the senior staffer most likely to be the first person to be given really bad news (and probably the most able to appreciate how bad the news is.) The sight of John Spencer looking worried with his mouth slowly falling open becomes familiar over the course of the show.
    • Will and Toby, frustrated with their inability to get their candidate of choice confirmed as Vice President, write a sarcastic speech lambasting Bob Russell, the compromise choice forced on them by the new Republican leadership. Cut to Bartlet's post-confirmation speech in the Rose Garden, where their sarcastic speech finds its way to the teleprompter, in full view of the new Vice President. Oops.
  • Old Media Playing Catch-Up: Discussed in "Ellie". When talking about the Surgeon General's web chat, Toby and C.J. lay into Josh for not calling them and/or doing anything to stop the Surgeon General before she made her remarks about marijuana. Josh points out that she was communicating live and online in a web forum away from the White House, not doing a traditional-style interview as a one-on-one with a reporter, and there was no way any of them could have stopped her in time.
  • Old Soldier: Albie Duncan from the State Department. His first appearance is during a maybe-crisis where a submarine has gone quiet in the South China Sea, recounting numerous horror stories of submarines that have met with disaster.
  • The Oner: Many examples of the Walk and Talk variety.
  • One-Steve Limit: averted; Josh consults two different psychiatrists in the series, one in "The Crackpots and The Women" and one in "Noel," both of whom are named Stanley.
    • The National Security Advisor and one of the President's personal secretaries are both named Nancy.
    • Doug Wegland from the re-election team and Doug Westin, President Bartlet's son-in-law.
  • Only Sane Man: Donna several times, perhaps most notably in "20 Hours in America", having to deal with Toby and Josh while they're making their way through Indiana.
    Jed: Three hundred IQ points between them, they can't find their way home. I swear to God, if Donna wasn't there, they'd have to buy a house.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Zigzagged around. Charlie refuses legal immunity because he thinks it's a tacit admission that Bartlet is guilty; both Josh and C.J. dismiss the need for one at different points when they're being deposed or the like which seems like a failure of common sense considering the White House routinely handles so much legal stuff it has a Counsel Office. However, Sam (an actual lawyer) does insist on going with Josh to his next deposition and saves him from perjury, and Leo hires his own lawyer when he's called before Congress.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • The normally grumpy Toby is positively giddy after Mendoza gets confirmed in the episode "Six Meetings Before Lunch". It's only because it's his "Day of Jubilee". It doesn't last.
      Margaret: Hey, Toby.
      Toby: Hey there, Margaret.
      Margaret: Are you okay?
      Toby: Yeah. Why wouldn't I be okay.
      Margaret: You don't usually say, "Hey there, Margaret."
      Toby: (giggles) What do I usually say?
      Margaret: You usually growl something inaudible.
      Toby: Not today.
      Margaret: I see.
      Toby: You, on the other hand, should turn that frown upside down.
      Margaret: I'm sorry.
      Toby: Let a smile be your umbrella, Margaret.
      Margaret: Okay, now you're scaring the crap out of me, Toby.
  • Orbital Kiss: Josh and Donna.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Obviously. Bartlet is President Personable, occasionally President Iron and frequently President Geek. Matt Santos is President Minority.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Agent Simon Donovan and C.J. Cregg are at the Secret Service firing range. Donovan has recently fired his gun and unthinkingly sticks it into his waistband. He immediately pulls it out again because the barrel was hot.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish":
    • Those in the know about MS use the password "Sagittarius."
    • Santos's little scheme to outvote Haffley uses Shave And A Haircut.
    • Leo leaks his tape using someone else's email; the password was her cat's name.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word
    Sam: You're not calm, Leo, you're acting like a nervous hoolelia.
    Toby: [Beat] A what?
    Sam: ...may not be a word; may just be somethin' my mother used to say.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Toby is so irritable and easily angered all the time that it's easy to forget he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, not a Jerkass. One of the earliest indicators of this was the episode "In Excelsis Deo," in which he goes to great lengths in order to get a homeless veteran he didn't know a proper burial, complete with military honor guard.
      Bartlet: Toby, if we start pulling strings like this, you don't think every homeless veteran would come out of the woodwork?
      Toby: I can only hope, sir.
    • Vice President Hoynes has a few moments that prove he isn't purely a scummy politician. When he learns of Leo's alcoholism and prescription drug addiction, he is consistently supportive and invites Leo to his own AA meeting. Another is when a bill is going to be passed that that will help rural Americans, but Congressional leaders consider him a threat and will stall the bill if he doesn't take his name off it. So he takes name off it so that it will get passed quickly, which means can't campaign on it. This is big, considering it has been clear from the start that he really wants to be President.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Mathematics professor Talmidge Cregg has a cat named Nicodemus.
  • Phrase Catcher: Just about everyone calls someone a "jackass" at some point over the series.
  • The Place: The title refers to the Executive Office Building of the White House which contains the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room, and the Roosevelt Room..
  • Platonic Life-Partners:
    • CJ and Toby, who never show any hint of being anything but very old friends.
    • Josh and Donna fit the trope very well for six and a half seasons. Then they stopped being platonic.
  • Poirot Speak: Inverted in "Enemies Foreign and Domestic." The Russian representatives are very good at English (one even knows "onomatopoeia") but they get confused at slang and idioms, like "frumpy." This becomes a plot point when Sam gets a request for a statement that is clearly written by someone who is more familiar with the language.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Secret Service agent Simon Donovan goes to buy a candy bar at a convenience store, and notices that something's off: the cashier is standing rigidly still, tries to let him leave without paying, and the register is open with no money in it. Donovan deduces that the other guy standing in the store is robbing it, and quickly puts him in custody. Striding triumphantly back to the cashier, Donovan is then promptly gunned down by the concealed second robber, which the cashier didn't indicate or warn Donovan about because he's a complete moron.
  • Pose of Silence: Defied in "In This White House. On Ainsley's first day, she has to meet with two Jerkasses about a stupid thing they did and suggests that they go out into the hallway rather than discuss it in their open-plan office. Being new, she doesn't realize that the hallway will be as full of people walking and talking as any given room. She leans in and says, "Okay, we'll keep our voices down." One Jerkass leans in long enough to sarcastically say, "Okay," then straightens up and they both spend the rest of the scene in normal poses talking at normal volumes, while she continues to lean and whisper. No respect, no Pose of Silence.
  • Previously on…:
    • Played with, a few of them are just intercut scenes from various episodes announcing the characters names and jobs in a humorous fashion.
    • "Mr. Frost" ends with such a Wham Line that the entire scene is replayed at the beginning of the next episode, after the normal previouslies.
  • Privateer: First Lady Abbey Bartlet's status as a "daughter of the American revolution" is contested, as her "revolutionary" ancestor was in fact a privateer helping the revolutionaries for money. She's very insistent that he was a privateer, and not a pirate.
  • Profiling: Of the federal judge Roberto Mendoza in the first-season episode "Celestial Navigation." Also in backstory, President Bartlet's first nominee for Attorney General fell through because he approved of profiling.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: When the White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn gets his ass handed to him by Ainsley Hayes on a debate show, Leo, the Chief of Staff, summons Ainsley to his office. She thinks she's there to be reprimanded and starts in on a long-winding speech about how wrong that is, when Leo interrupts her to offer her a job in the White House Counsel's office.
    Leo: The President likes smart people who disagree with him.
  • Put on a Bus: Aaron Sorkin loves this trope. Ainsley Hayes, Sam Seaborn, and Danny Concannon are notable examples. The Bus Came Back for all of them.
    • The actual phrase "Put him on a bus" is used in Season 1, when they find out their first choice for nomination to SCOTUS doesn't believe that privacy in a constitutional right.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: President Bartlet's reelection turns out to be this as he spends a large portion of his second term effectively disabled from his MS and his administration falls into one pittrap after another so that, by the end, C.J. bitterly jokes that her legacy as chief of staff might be a fisheries bill. Not to say there aren't legitimate victories, but most are quickly overshadowed by larger defeats.
  • Quiet Cry for Help: A coal company's scientist and acquaintance of Toby visits the White House with a colleague and takes a moment to ask Toby about his forthcoming twins. Once he's out of immediate earshot of the colleague, he whispers that he needs whistleblower protection. Toby then starts talking loudly about prospective girls' names in order to alert his assistants (all women), and passes them a note of his own — "Get Josh."
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: A fundie quotes The Bible (Leviticus, in particular) to support her stance against homosexuality. President Bartlet then produces even more quotes from Leviticus, demonstrating how cruel and inapplicable those particular commandments are.
  • Qurac: Qumar (Iran/Iraq, also arguably Libya) and Equatorial Kundu (any despotic African country).
    • Qumar is an odd one as both Iran and Iraq also exist in the West Wing universe. We even see a satellite map of Qumar in one episode – in the real world it's just southern Iran, but with Libyan city names added to the map. It was likely created to avoid having the show depict the planned assassination of a real Middle Eastern country's government minister and prince by the US government.
  • Radio Silence: In one episode, Washington loses track of a submarine off the coast of North Korea and is uncertain as to whether it's been destroyed or is just keeping silent.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: President Bartlet's a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. claims (contradicted by John Wells) that the outcome of the election was changed due to the death of John Spencer; it was thought that having both Leo die and Santos lose the election would be too much of a downer for the audience.
    • The reason Sam Seaborn got Put on a Bus is because Rob Lowe was leaving to star in his own show.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When Charlie takes a little too much amusement from President Bartlet's transparent attempts to get some afternoon delight from his wife, Bartlet suggests that he should wipe that smirk off his face or he'll send him on special assignment to the Yukon.
    • Josh also uses this trope at one point: "Repeat that outside this room, and I'll have you knocking on doors in Alaska, and not the urban part."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Donna to Toby and Josh in "20 Hours in America, Part II", after being driven nuts all day by their incessant talking about the election:
      Donna: I have such an impulse to knock your heads together. I can't remember the last time I heard you two talk about anything other than how a campaign was playing in Washington. Cathy needed to take a second job so her dad could be covered by her insurance. She tried to tell you how bad things were for family farmers. You told her we already lost Indiana. You made fun of the fair but you didn't see they have livestock exhibitions and give prizes for the biggest tomato and the best heirloom apple. They're proud of what they grow. Eight modes of transportation, the kindness of six strangers, random conversations with twelve more, and nobody brought up Bartlet versus Ritchie but you. I'm writing letters, on your behalf to the parents of the kids who were killed today. Can I have the table, please?
    • Ritchie to Bartlet:
      You're an academic elitist, and a snob. You're, uh, Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted.
    • The ultimate example would have to be President Bartlet giving one to God in Latin after the death of Mrs. Landingham.
    • Cliff Calley gives one to some Republican Congressmen who want to bring up Leo falling off the wagon just to embarrass him during the MS trial:
      This is why good people hate us, this, right here, this thing... And if you proceed with this line of questioning, I will resign this committee and wait in the tall grass for you Congressman, because you are killing the party.
    • Retiring Supreme Court Justice Crouch gives one to Bartlet in season 1:
      You ran great guns in the campaign. ... And then you drove to the middle of the road the moment after you took the Oath. ... I wanted a Democrat, and instead I got you.
      • This is incidentally the speech that goads Bartlet into re-examining the case for having Mendoza on the Supreme Court.
    • Bartlet laces into Toby while firing him for leaking the existence of the military space shuttle. He essentially accuses Toby of being a self-righteous scold whose belief in his own moral superiority made this sort of event inevitable.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Bartlet decides he's going to run for re-election despite all the awful things that have happened, from the shooting to Mrs. Landingham's death, and walks through a heavy downpour to the pressroom to announce.
  • Relationship Reveal / Relationship Upgrade: In the cold open of "Election Day", every recurring Santos campaign staffer reveals who they "came on board" with (except for Bram, but he was mentioned to have hooked up with some "campaign groupies" in a previous episode). It's practically a parody of Shipping in general, and though it's all played very dramatically, the cut to the triumphant theme music of the credits after all the sex in the air is pretty hilarious.
  • Remember the New Guy?: White House staffers pop up all the time who we've never seen before, conceivably because they've been doing other stuff and the show keeps a tight focus on the core staff. Two characters in season 3, though, were explicitly 'present' at the assassination attempt in Rosslyn back in season 1; one-off staffer Rakim Ali (Isaac and Ishmael) and recurring Secret Service agent Simon Donovan.
  • Retcon:
    • The show was continually quietly Retcon -ed to keep it in line with current events - while the 9/11 attacks never officially happened in the show and are never referred to, it was quickly apparent that the show was occurring in a post-9/11 environment from Season 3 on.
    • The crew taped a special episode named "Isaac and Ishmael" (that wasn't in continuity) that aired prior to the normal Season 3 starter.
    • In the first season, Zoey Bartlet is said to be 19 years old multiple times; in the second and third season, she's said to be 17 during that time which is key to a criminal investigation of fraud in Bartlet's MS scandal. She would have had to fill out a medical history form when entering college, and since she was a minor, a parent would have had to sign off on it namely, her mother.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder
    • More of a "rhetorical joke" - Margaret tells a half-paying-attention Toby about some issues with the White House e-mail when he runs into Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Fitzwallace, to whom he quips that there may be a major security breach.
      Admiral Fitzwallace: [shrugging] White House computers aren't secure. [leaves]
      Toby Ziegler: Well, *ehm* that, uh, explains that.
    • Josh demonstrates his character wonderfully after joking about some group Leo brought up. (Although it ends up backfiring on him, in that Leo's so annoyed by Josh's glib remark that he assigns the pointless-but-excruciating busywork he was about to give to Toby to Josh instead.)
      Leo: You wanna mock people, or you wanna let me talk to Toby?
      Josh: I wanna mock people.
  • Ridiculously Long Phone Hold: In one episode, Josh is put on hold when trying to find out when the power to the polling phone bank will come back on.
    I'm on hold. I'm on hold. I'm in some kind of hellish hold world of holding.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Lowell Lydell is an expy of Matthew Shepard, and the genocide in Equatorial Kundu is uncannily similar to the one in Rwanda (use of ID cards, use of machetes, propaganda on the radio directing mobs about where to attack, the forced incest, the West's reluctance to get involved, etc.)
  • Rousseau Was Right:
    • Even Bartlet's Republican opponents are portrayed as having America's best interests in mind, and are at worst portrayed as Well Intentioned Extremists. They are usually portrayed even better. The exception to this is Republican Speaker Haffley, who, while getting an occasional scene that portrayed him reasonably well, was petty, spiteful and obsessed with his own self-image. However, he was balanced out by his Senate counterpart, who was a decent man who wanted to make peace between Congress and the White House and who was disgusted at some of Haffley's more extreme political maneuvering. Karmic Retribution has it where Haffley loses most of his battles against Bartlet and even loses a few fights to Santos in the House, and on Election night during the final season Haffley is seen losing House seats to Democrats, knocking him out of the Speaker's office while his Republican Senate Majority counterpart keeps his GOP majority intact.
    • A recurring device was Republican characters taking exception to the at-times self-righteous attitudes of the Democratic characters and either explaining at-length how it actually was possible to be a decent person and a Republican or puncturing their moralistic arguments by suggesting more practical arguments that they should be making instead of getting hung up on self-righteousness.
  • Running Gag / Couch Gag: Gail the goldfish and her many, many, many change in fishbowl decorations, which always fit the episode theme.

    S to Z 
  • Sanctuary of Solitude:
    • Its most epic episode features President Bartlet giving God himself a chewing out in the National Cathedral after the funeral of Mrs. Landingham.
      You're a son of a bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car, and you hit her with a drunk driver. What, was that supposed to be funny? "You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," says Graham Greene. I don't know whose ass he was kissin' there, 'cause I think you're just vindictive.
    • He tops it off by cursing at God in Latin.
      Bartlet: Eas in crucem!Translation note 
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Laid-back, easygoing reporter Danny Concannon and hypercapable, on-the-go CJ Cregg.
  • Say My Name: The various men (and CJ) of the Bartlet administration usually solve their problems by bellowing for their secretaries.
    • The President: Mrs. Landingham! (or, depending on what he needs, "Charlie!!")
    • Leo: Margaret!
    • After Leo semi-retires and CJ becomes Chief of Staff, she starts yelling for Margaret.
    • Toby: Ginger!
    • CJ: Carol!
    • And, most famous of all, Josh: DONNNAAAAA!!!
  • Secret Test of Character: Will's start in the West Wing. Bartlet and Toby plant a deliberately bad note about a speech he's working on as a test to see if he'll "speak truth to power" and argue with Bartlet about the point. He's too nervous to bring it directly to Bartlet, but Toby argues that he raised the issue with him and might have pushed harder if the rest of the staff weren't hazing him so hard.
    • Bartlet unintentionally passed one of Josh's by displaying his will to pass a bill that cut profits for farmers but allowed poor people to buy milk.
    • Toby was allowed to stay on Bartlet's campaign because he advised the Governor to be honest when the other advisers were for placating and pandering.
    • Roberto Mendoza was being interviewed for a job he didn't even know he was in the running for: Associate Justice for the Supreme Court. He is asked, point blank, in the Oval Office, in front of the President of the United States, what he would do if the President ordered someone to be fired for refusing to take a drug test. His immediate response? Order the employee be reinstated, on the grounds that the drug test constitutes an illegal search.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Sheila insists that Vinick fire her in The Cold so that he can adjust his campaign strategy (after the near-meltdown of a nuclear power plant ruins his original 50-state strategy) while blaming any poor decisions on her, changing the story from the meltdown to a Vinick resurgence. It doesn't work; the press runs stories on how badly the campaign is crumbling and the nuclear accident remains a weight on Vinick until his 'Til They Drop' press conference in Two Weeks Out.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Abbey makes an appearance on the show to rehabilitate her public image. The episode treats us to the delightful image of CJ sitting next to Big Bird.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    Bartlet: In my family anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn't trying hard.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Josh and Donna had a couple of these moments.
  • The Shrink: Stanley the trauma therapist.
  • Shout-Out:
    • President Bartlet draws a pretty convincing parallel between Leo getting his hopes up every time the military wants to test their missile defense system only for something to go wrong, and Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy's football only to have it pulled away.
    • There are of course numerous references to Gilbert and Sullivan, but the subtlest and funniest one was from Will in Season 4's "Privateers":
      Will: Amy, we have a problem for your office.
      Amy: No, you can't. 'Cause it's only my first day, and Mrs. Bartlet already has me overthrowing the government.
      Will: The legitimacy of her membership in the DAR is being questioned because her qualifying relative was a pirate.
      Amy: A pirate?
    • There are also a few references to The Lion in Winter. The first is somewhat subtle, when Lord John Marbury advises the White House on a near-war between India and Pakistan. He says that bribing India not to go to war is the price you pay for being "rich, free, and alive all at the same time". A few seasons later, Bartlet similarly misquotes the play when discussing it with Toby, "My god I'm fifty, alive, and king, all at the same time". The line is "There's no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once." It is also apparently Bartlet's favorite movie: Toby tells him that "your favorite movie was on last night," and they discuss the film in some detail- but never actually name the film.
    • In a flashback in "Two Cathedrals," a young Jed Bartlet quotes Ray Bradbury in an article about censorship in his school's newspaper.
    • Towards the end of "Ellie," when Bartlet realizes that his daughter Ellie's rare public comment about how he won't fire the Surgeon General demonstrates how much faith she has in his judgment, he says, "My God, King Lear's a good play!" (In Lear, the daughter whom the king thinks is least loyal is actually the most loyal.) Doubles as a Genius Bonus.
    • In "The Stormy Present," Toby, who is having a bad day, starts to weakly sing the theme song of M*A*S*H:
      Toby: Suicide is painless...It brings on...many changes...
    • As mentioned above, Aaron Sorkin is a huge fan of 1776, and went so far as to name several major characters after historical figures who are prominently featured in the musical. President Josiah Bartlet is named after Dr. Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire (and said to be his descendant), his wife Abigail is named after Abigail Adams, and Josh Lyman is named after Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia. Referenced more directly on the few occasions where Bartlet insists on being called "Dr. Bartlet" to remind people that he has a doctorate in Economics; the historical Bartlett was a practicing physician. Plus, Abby's a medical doctor.
  • Shown Their Work: "he show had a number of actual ex (and future) White House staffers available to advise them how things went, and the writers usually stuck very close to what they said, only making alterations where necessary for the sake of drama, or hilarity. The show was justly praised for its accuracy in how it portrayed the workings of the White House, although it definitely occupies the brighter end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: CJ and Danny.
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 4, arc-based episodic. Each season has a few major arcs and things from the past often affect what's going on in the present, but segments from the arc are usually wrapped up within individual episodes.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very idealistic.
    • Justified in that, if you're going to write a serious drama about people working in government, about which most people are fairly cynical, and you want the audience to care about the characters at all, the characters had better believe in something.
  • Smart Ball: Every member of the team is a genius, but they have their own specialized niches.
    • President Bartlet is the inspiration, the visionary who charts the course of an entire nation.
    • Leo is the manager who knows every operational aspect of the administration, and funnels all the complexities of the government into meaningful results.
    • Josh is the attack dog, relating a multitude of agendas with each other and kicking uncooperative elements in the teeth until they fit in.
    • Toby is an encyclopaedia, loaded with facts and statistics that are translated into eloquent communication.
    • Sam is quick to pick up on obscure information that could make or break the White House's plans, and is the poet to Toby's pedant.
    • CJ is The Social Expert, manipulating people without them noticing that she is charming their pants off.
    • Charlie, while much less significant, has the best observational and deductive skills of the entire team, and can piece together random patterns with barely any clues.
    • Will is Sam Lite, but is better at the down and dirty politicking than the idealistic Sam.
    • Later on, Kate Harper is the expert on the military and national security, and Annabeth Schott is the PR expert.
  • Smart People Play Chess: President Bartlet plays chess, even during international crises. Later, Leo insists that he continue to play weekly to make sure his multiple sclerosis isn't affecting his reasoning. Both Sam and Toby play chess with Bartlet throughout the series as does Leo.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: President Bartlet shouting at God, in untranslated Latin, in the middle of the National Cathedral.
  • Smooch of Victory: Josh and Donna
  • Smug Snake: Speaker of the House Haffley is the epitome of this, thinking himself to be smarter and gutsier than he actually is.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Happens just about every time two Deadpan Snarkers have a conversation, which considering the volume of such characters means it happens at least Once an Episode.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Happens pretty frequently.
    • Sam's description of the Boston Tea Party:
      "We jumped out from behind bushes, while the British came down the road in their bright red jackets, but never has a war been so courteously declared. It was on parchment with calligraphy and "Your highness, we beseech you on this day in Philadelphia to bite me, if you please."
  • Sorkin Relationship Moment: Given that it's from the Trope Namer, it pops up several times. Josh does the most callouts throughout the series.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • At the end of "Dead Irish Writers", where a rousing rendition of "O Canada" is being performed as Abbey tells Jed that she's going to forfeit her medical license.
    • In "Posse Comitatus": as Bartlet is informed that Shareef has been killed, the triumphant, joyful "Patriotic Chorus" is performed loudly right below the balcony. "Evermore upon our country God will pour His great increase / And victorious in war shall be made glorious in peace."
  • Speech-Centric Work: As you'd expect from something largely written by Aaron Sorkin.
  • Spy Speak: "Leo McGarry would like you to meet an old friend from home." is used numerous times throughout the series, and is code for 'Something terrible has happened, it needs to be kept a secret, and we need you to drop everything and come with us right now'.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Charlie uses this in order to show CJ that her new office has a door to the Oval.
  • Statuesque Stunner: C.J., as portrayed by Allison Janney.
  • Straw Affiliation: Used to great effect in an early episode, where Josh is arguing with a Republican congressman, Matt Skinner, over provisions in a proposed anti-gay marriage law. He is baffled by the congressman's refusal to vote against it, even though Skinner himself is gay. When Josh finally breaks down and asks why he doesn't vote against the bill, and why he's even a member of the party when the Republicans always have an anti-gay message, Skinner replies that yes, he is gay. But he is also for lower taxes, less government, and most other Republican positions, and he simply chooses not to let his sexuality, rather than his principles, decide how he should vote.
  • Strawman Ball: Most often conservatives, although Josh tends to suffer his share of humiliations as well.
  • Straw Character:
    • It's clear on several occasions that the writers are making a genuine effort to not simply demonize their opponents as one-dimensional strawmen; there were many decent Republicans on the show, most notably Arnold Vinick and Ainsley Hayes, who were designed as standing members of the cast and thus people for us to like. But there's even examples of more throwaway Republican roles who are portrayed more rationally and positively than some of their colleagues, such as Robert Royce, Joseph Bruno, and Cliff Calley.
    • Nicely averted by the recurring character of Al Caldwell, a very reasonable Christian minister who serves as a foil to Mary Marsh, who's much more militant. Sorkin does know how to write both the good and bad of Caldwell's religion.
    • But played pretty straight with presidential candidate Rob Ritchie, who's a fairly transparent stand-in for George W. Bush.
    • Generally played straight with anyone to the left of the main cast, such as Seth Gillette. They are usually painted as holier-than-thou, naive, or more interested in self-serving posturing than actual accomplishments.
  • Straw Traitor: Josh accuses Congressman Matt Skinner of being this, wondering how he could be gay and also be a Republican.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: How Sam describes the Declaration of Independence in "Isaac and Ishmael".
    "We jumped out from behind bushes while the British came down the road in their bright red jackets, but never has a war been so courteously declared. It was on parchment with calligraphy and "Your Highness, we beseech you on this day in Philadelphia to bite me, if you please."
  • Sublime Rhyme:
    Bruno: "That's the brunette named Annette."
    CJ: [grins] "Wouldn't you just give anything if she was from Tibet?"
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: When Toby, Josh, and Donna stop at a club while roadtripping from Indiana to Washington D.C., "The Wanderer" is playing on the jukebox.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Will Bailey. Joshua Malina even described himself as a less handsome, cheaper Sam.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: Toby's at temple on Friday evening, listening to his Rabbi say "Vengeance is not Jewish". He gets a phone call from Sam, who asks "By any chance, is your Rabbi giving a sermon on the death penalty?" Toby listens to another sonorous phrase demonizing the death penalty. "... yes?" This is not an accident.
  • Take a Third Option: Subverted when Santos is elected president and has to choose between letting a political opponent become Speaker of the House (which would hurt his agenda) or trying to influence the election in favor of one of his friends (which would look bad politically). They come up with the third option of convincing his friend to drop out and back a dark horse candidate, who would then be loyal to Santos... but Santos decides that wouldn't be ethical, and ends up just staying out of it.
  • Take Five:
    • The phrase is, "Everyone, can we have the room for a minute?" And since it's the president asking, everyone leaves...
    • In the congressional hearing where Leo is testifying, the committee chairman says, "Let's take a five minute break. Please, everybody, let's keep it to ten minutes."
  • Take That!:
    • At one point, Democratic leadership requests that Bartlet say "the era of big government is over" in his State of the Union speech. The whole cast, but Toby especially, rants against that phrase, saying government should be big, and it should be a place where smart people come together to solve problems. Doesn't seem like anything but a slight against the small-government Republicans. But in 1996, then-President Clinton said the exact phrase in his State of the Union speech because the political winds changed after Democrats lost control of Congress.
    • Vinick is trying to convince Bruno that scandalous information they have on Santos shouldn't be a factor in the election, and should not be leaked, by saying if he had made up his mind to vote for someone, the scandal wouldn't change it:
      Bruno: Good. That's you. And that's maybe most Santos voters. And it is every voter in France.note 
    • A throwaway one in "The State Dinner" has Josh toss in "The Redskins suck!" while looking for new business in his briefing papers before concluding the meeting. Somewhat odd given that the Redskins were leading the division with a 5-3 record at air time (and went on to take third in the NFC at 10-6).
    • At one point, Bartlet grouses about the infamous “Shaken, not stirred” recipe for a vodka martini favored by James Bond.
      Bartlet: You know what’s messed up about James Bond? “Shaken, not stirred” will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so as not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.
  • Talk About That Thing: One of the fan websites had The Page About The Thing, translating "thing" for each time it appears in the dialogue.
  • Three-Wall Set: More accurately called a Four Wall Set. A fairly accurate model of the West Wing was created for the show, including different entrances to where the camera and extras could move quickly to-and-from behind-the-scenes.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Toby is constantly on the warpath to prevent this when they're about to celebrate a political victory before the votes are actually cast, as he explains in "Six Meetings Before Lunch" and demonstrates numerous times thereafter.
    • Sam's speech for the President includes an opening line about the magnificent vista, which Toby recommends being ready to change in case it rains. Sam goes on and on about how much faith he has in the forecast given to him by the Coast Guard, which is when the thunderstorm breaks, complete with well-timed lightning flash. (Naturally, the line change doesn't make it in.)
  • Terminology Title: To be expected for a Government Procedural. The series name itself is one, referring to the section of the White House where the operations of the executive office are carried out. Several episodes' names are also Terminology Titles, such as season one's "Mandatory Minimums" (legally required higher sentences for those convicted of possessing crack cocaine compared to regular cocaine) and season five's "The Dover Test" (measuring the American public's support for an overseas military action by the Yanks with Tanks when soldiers start dying and are sent home via flag-draped casket at Dover Air Force Base).
  • Test Kiss: C.J. and Danny.
  • Those Two Guys: Ed & Larry, two minor staffers who are present in all seasons. They are apparently important enough to be invited to a few top-level, highly-sensitive meetings. Even the other characters have trouble telling them apart.
    • In Seasons 5-7, Santos staffer Ronna was That One Guy; although she nominally had equal status to Santos's other staffers, she appeared in far more episodes than them (22, more than Nancy McNally and John Hoynes, even though Ronna was a less important character) and directors tended to include her in shots where other more prominent characters were talking. In the season finale she became Santos's Executive Secretary.
  • Three-Volley Flinch: In "In Excelsis Deo", Toby Ziegler and Mrs. Landingham flinch at the sound of the gun salute given during the funeral of the homeless veteran.
  • Throwing Out the Script: Bartlet is usually pretty good about sticking to his prepared speeches but has occasionally had to improvise, usually because some outside force interfered with his ability to deliver the prepared speech.
    • In season seven episode "The Debate", Arnold Vinick stops during his prepared opening remarks and asks Santos and moderator Forrest Sawyer if they can change the format to a proper debate rather than the canned responses they've both prepared.
  • Time Skip:
    • The show misses a year between Christmas 2003, as shown in the middle of season 5, and C.J.'s first day as Chief of Staff in early season 6. This gives the show more ease in fitting the 2006 presidential primaries into season 6 and the election into season 7. The most popular place for the lost year is after the episode "Access" (C.J.'s Day in the Life episode), as the episodes after it are pretty close together.
    • The gaps between seasons 1 and 2, and 5 and 6, are quietly skipped, keeping Josh in hospital in the former and Germany in the latter for months.
  • To Absent Friends: Combined very effectively with the Meaningful Funeral in "Requiem". The first half of the episode, the funeral, mourns Leo's death. The second half, the wake, celebrates Leo's life and how much his friends loved him.
  • Trauma Button: Josh's post-shooting PTSD is triggered by music.
  • Trigger Phrase: Apparently nobody in Washington can stand up against Leo telling them "the President is asking you to serve" regardless of any reservations about working at the White House.
  • Troll: A few times, people mess with others just for giggles.
    • Toby scorns trying to win votes for a vote they've already won.
    • Toby, again, goes to bat for PBS and Sesame Street. He admits he's having fun.
      Toby: It's Fozzie Bear not Fuzzy Bear.
    • A Republican Supreme Court nominee messes with Toby by arguing for DOMA, a piece of legislation both are against.
    • Leo messes with Mallory and Sam's barely-started relationship a couple times.
    • Flashbacks reveal that Donna was trolled by her predecessor before the Bartlet administration took over, convinced to believe that there was a nuclear missile silo buried in the White House garden. When Josh later mocks her for her naiveté, she herself trolls him and makes him believe the same thing.
  • True Companions: A fairly direct example, with Jed and Leo as the parents, Sam, Josh, and C.J. as the elder children, Toby as the funny uncle, Donna as the girl who keeps coming around, and Charlie as the kid everyone looks out for.
  • Truth in Television: White House staffers do work incredibly long hours, sometimes 16-20 hour days, six and sometimes seven days a week (even if they aren't physically in The White House doing it). To the point that it's somewhat unrealistic that so many people stayed as long as they did.
    • The show was painstakingly researched, especially when Sorkin was in charge, and the political Techno Babble is pretty much all accurate. Several Clinton White House staffers, most notably Dee Dee Myers, were consulted to create a White House as real as possible (while still sitting on Sorkin's preferred end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism). Many political professionals said the final, campaign-centric seasons accurately reflected their lives.
    • Of note is that the real "Leo" was Leon Panetta, and the real "Josh" was Rahm Emmanuel; when Obama won he appointed Panetta to the CIA and Emmanuel as Chief of Staff, meaning Rahm succeeded Leon, just like Josh succeeding Leo.
  • TV Genius: Subverted, President Jed Bartlet, Rhodes scholar and Nobel Prize winner.
  • 25th Amendment: Invoked at the start of Season 5. Bartlet can't run the country because he's severely emotionally compromised, Hoynes just resigned as V.P., which means that the Republican Speaker of the House becomes President, or more accurately, Acting President.
  • Twisting the Words: Toby in "The Leadership Breakfast."
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Ultimate Job Security: Secretary of Defense Miles Hutchinson. Despite being a Jerkass from the word go (his first onscreen appearance involved using leaks to impede presidential foreign policy decisions he disagreed with, and nearly coming to blows with Leo in the Situation Room), he, for no adequately-explained reason, kept his job through the entire Administration.
  • Undying Loyalty: The show is made of this trope. From Leo's "I take a bullet for the president. He doesn't take one for me" down to Margaret's "I'll sleep when you sleep."
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Josh and Donna (eventually resolved, after about 150 episodes); Sam and several women; C.J. and Danny (although they acknowledge it and kiss a lot, also resolved just prior to the Grand Finale); Annabeth seems to feel this toward Toby at first, then Leo, to his bemusement.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Toby and Andy's twins, Molly and Huck.
  • The Usual Adversaries: Often Republicans. Or really, just Congress.
    "You know, I'm so sick of Congress I could vomit."
  • Verbal Tic: Not for nothing, but, you know, we're gonna have to get into the thing at some point. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
    • "Donna." "Josh." "Donna!" "JOSH!"
    • "MARGARET!" "*appears from behind the door* What, Leo?"
    • In the first couple seasons, Danny responds to C.J.'s various "NO, I won't go out with you"-type lines with a simple "ok." He then tries again five minutes later.
  • Very Special Episode: Several examples, actually:
    • "Isaac and Ishmael" was written and filmed two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. It's explicitly stated to be outside of the continuity and takes place in a universe where 9/11 happened, whereas in the regular West Wing continuity it never did.
    • There was also a documentary special in season 2 that was a clip show combined with interviews of people from the real West Wing.
    • The episode The Debate was filmed and broadcast live, as if it was a real debate.
  • Vice President Who?: Both of President Bartlet's veeps. Bartlet and Hoynes personally dislike each other from their competition in the primaries and Bartlet barely involves Hoynes in anything important, which Hoynes resents. Bob Russell is widely known as a bland political hack and was the only VP nominee that could get through a hostile Congress, but he tries to make himself more notable for his inevitable presidential campaign.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Heaven help you if you didn't pay attention in the episode, or knew nothing about American politics. After Sorkin left, the writing tended to become a little more self-explanatory.
  • Villain Ball: In season 5, Speaker of the House Haffley's whole plan is basically to be obstructive as possible until the White House gives him what he wants, and it works for him as long as he can convince the public that he's restraining the White House from spending excessive amounts of money on foolish liberal nonsense. It stops working for him when Bartlet, tired of Haffley's obstructionism, calls his bluff by shutting down the entire federal government, and then making a big show of walking up to the Hill to break the deadlock. When Haffley hesitates a few minutes too long about letting them in to talk, Bartlet just leaves, making it look like the Republicans care more about getting what they want than they do about reaching an agreement. Haffley's position is fatally weakened, and Bartlet is able to strongarm him into agreeing to a budget.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot:
    • Santos' son does the "duck offscreen" version in the doorway of their last trick-or-treat destination.
    • Mandy does this after she learns that a negotiator in a hostage situation, that she pushed for to avoid the bad press a raid would bring, has been shot and is in critical condition.
  • Walk and Talk: Trope Codifier, the show even parodied it at one point with a new White House Intern tripping during the scene. This also lampshaded by Will, who comments that it's as good as an aerobic workout.
  • The War Room: The White House Situation Room. The show ran long enough that, during its first appearance, the West Wing Situation Room was far more advanced than the real location. By the end of the show the reverse was true.
  • The Watson: Donna, whose role in the early years was to badger Josh with questions like, "Josh, why is policy X important?" and "Josh, why should we spend millions to bail out Mexico?"
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Jed Bartlet is still desperately seeking his abusive father's approval, and is called out on this by both Toby and by Stanley Keyworth.
    • Arguably also called out by Bartlet himself, in the form of an imaginary conversation with the recently-deceased Mrs Landingham in the season two finale.
  • Western Terrorists: A group called "West Virginia White Pride" are a recurring thread in the first season as they oppose Charlie and Zoey's interracial relationship. The Secret Service are shown discussing threats the group have made and the investigation into their meetings.
  • Wham Episode: Season One's "What Kind of Day Has It Been", Season Two's "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" and "18th and Potomac" (and, to a degree, "Noël"), and Season Four's "Commencement".
  • Wham Line:
    • "Noël": Several, most noticeably (from the same scene) "Can you honestly tell me that you didn't wonder if you were suicidal too?" and "How did you cut your hand?"
    • "Two Cathedrals": "Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem!", which roughly translates to "To hell with your punishments. To hell with you!". And then, of course, "You get Hoynes."
    • "Commencement": "Did you put ecstasy in my drink?"
    • "Things Fall Apart": "Now that's the civilian shuttle." "...sorry?"
    • "Mr. Frost": "I did it."
    • A minor one, from "Take This Sabbath Day," but still effective: Bartlet, in a moral quandary over the death penalty, asks Charlie if he'd want to see the man who killed his mother be executed:
      Charlie: I wouldn't want to see him executed, Mr. President. I'd want to do it myself.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Quite a few, particularly since there are too many characters and a similar situation with plots.
    • Ainsley Hayes has a minor character arc, gets another appearance during the election, then vanishes. She's then replaced by
    • Joe Quincy, the Spear Counterpart to Miss Hayes, who shows up for three episodes. Since he was played by Matthew Perry, who was still on Friends at the time, this is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. Both he and Hayes worked for
    • The chief counsel of the White House. Two different men played two different roles, and apparently there was a third off-screen.
    • Any number of plots, such as Josh dealing with the monetary cost of his shooting.
    • Also Charlie wanting to marry Zoey at the end of season 6.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: a lot of these come up over the course of the show, especially among the senior staff.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Vinick faces this when Bruno brings him Santos' briefcase with devastating information inside, having found it completely accidentally with nobody else's knowledge.
  • Where da White Women At?: Bartlet does not go so far as to forbid his black aide Charlie from dating his white daughter Zoey, but he does not mince words about how much trouble it's likely to cause among white supremacists. It eventually results in a shooting, which Charlie blames himself for, but Bartlet assures him isn't his fault and commends him for not backing down. He and Zoey's relationship continues regardless.
  • Who's on First?: Donna meets Santos staffer Ronna and they spend half a minute correcting what they think is are Accidental Misnamings on the other's part before Josh clears it up.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Josh and Donna.
  • World of Snark: The show could've been called "World of Snark" instead of "The West Wing", and no one would've argued.
  • Worf Had the Flu: The only explanation for C.J. not appearing in the episode where the cast try to write a comedic speech for the 'White House Correspondents Dinner'... which C.J. likely is organizing.
  • Workaholic:
    • Josh - he's introduced in the pilot sleeping at his desk as the cleaning staff vacuums around him and he doesn't take a vacation until the last season of the series. (And he has to be coerced / blackmailed into taking that one by Sam.) He does try several times to take a holiday, but each time something happens.
    • Leo, too.
    • Sam Seaborn, three. He's also been known to not even bother to go back home to sleep; at one point he walks into a meeting Josh is holding to delegate tasks to his staff to snag fruit and ends up also snagging an assignment completely on his own initiative, even giving an impassioned little speech showing that he's already researched the matter in some detail, though he's by no means fully up to speed.
    • All of the main characters to some degree or other, both due to the fact that working in the White House is a legitimately time-draining occupation and because the characters, frankly, don't seem to be the type of people who have much in their lives outside of their work. It's deconstructed in "20 Hours in America", however; Toby and Josh are so fixated on their jobs and the politics surrounding them that they're unable to relate to anyone who isn't part of the campaign and unable to have a conversation with anyone — even each other — that doesn't revolve around pompous, self-righteous arguing and pontificating about the election.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Inverted. After Josh spends half the episode mocking NASA and questioning why the space program is even needed, one of the NASA representatives completely reverses his opinion by showing him the rest of the solar system and nebulae through a high-powered telescope. Because outer space is really, really awesome.
  • Writer on Board: Sorkin was so upset at Television Without Pity for finding flaws in his writing. 3x13 "Night Five" has him say, through Ainsley, that anyone irritated by the way he writes female characters or the "it's-a-joke" type of sexism displayed by the male cast is a bad feminist busybody prude. 3x16 "The US Poet Laureate" has the titular poet claim that "an artist's job is not to speak the truth" which must have been news to the artists who have been doing that since... oh, the invention of art.note  And from the same episode, internet fora are full of loonies with Skewed Priorities and must be avoided at all costs (or they'll be mean about your show)! Although there is some Truth in Television to that one...
  • You Are Number 6: When Will finds that he has several speechwriting interns named Lauren, he gives them numbered sports jerseys and calls them "Lauren 4, Lauren 6," etc.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Excluding family members and pre-election flashbacks, only five characters in the entire seven-season run ever called President Bartlet by his nickname "Jed" to his face. And even Leo only did it twice.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: A rare example in that it's non-fatal and it's the good guys who do it. In Season 3's "On the Day Before", Bartlet is preparing to veto the repeal of the estate tax when it becomes clear that the House majority has enough votes to override the veto. The team invites leading Democrats to the White House to negotiate what they would like in exchange for voting against the override. Congressman Kimball has a long shopping list of demands which will shore up his support with his agricultural constituents, and Toby is forced to yield to them. Then it occurs to Sam that Kimball has moved so far to the right that they might as well offer the same things to a Republican congressman, which will not only look wonderfully bipartisan but if they choose the right guy, he'll bring more than just one vote. So Toby gets to do what he loves to do: make clear to someone who's been deeply annoying him just how expendable that person is.
    Kimball: We were talking about a tougher FDA crackdown on illegal uses of antibiotics in milk such as excess dosages of-
    Toby: No.
    Kimball: Well, I wouldn't be so quick to say no.
    Toby: I think I will.
    Kimball: No to the FDA crackdown?
    Toby: No to everything.
    Kimball: What do you mean?
    Toby: I mean no to the FDA crackdown, no to lower agricultural subsidies, no to the production flexibility contracts, no to the GAO review, and the president will seek to raise the grazing fees at any time he sees fit. We're going to need the room. Would you mind, Congressman.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame:
    • In a flashback, the first sign that there's something wrong with Bartlet's first nominee for Attorney General comes when a leader of the Christian right confides to C.J. that the nominee is the first black man he's ever heard "make sense" on racial profiling.
    • In the fifth season episode "Talking Points," Josh has only just realized that the free trade deal he helped to make is going to destroy jobs he'd promised to protect, when Republican Speaker Haffley praises him in a meeting for doing such a bang-up job on the trade deal.

"What's next?"


Ainsley Hayes

Ainsley is nothing like the blonde, leggy Republican Sam expected.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / BlondeRepublicanSexKitten

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