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Before the show

Because the writers did not map out a historical backstory for the show, there is no definite timeline that can be created. Often times due to production oversight, there are contradictions and plot holes. Many people over the years have used scraps of information scattered throughout the series to create their own backstories between the resignation of Richard Nixon and the election of Jed Bartlet. There are presumably several fictional Presidents after Nixon, but most have never been mentioned in the show. Only two former presidents are revealed: D. Wire Newman, a one-term Democrat, and Owen Lassiter, a two-term Republican. Newman and Lassiter were designed similarly to real-life presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, respectively. The placements of their presidencies are ambiguous, but there are hints. Newman used the same Air Force One plane as Bartlet, indicating a presidency during the late '80s. Lassiter and his staff members are all very elderly in 2004, so his presidency could be placed in the late '70s or early '80s.

Timeline

YEAR DATE INFO EPISODE(S)
1966 September Operation Rolling Thunder; Leo hits a target that's supposed to be a bridge. In reality it's a dam with 11 civilian casualties. Leo is informed of this by General Alan Adamley in October 2001. War Crimes
1969 (app.) n/a Leo and Bartlet meet for the first time Bartlet for America
1990 n/a Bartlet and Leo begin a friendship. Bartlet for America
1997 October • Leo visits Josh and asks him to come to Nashua.
• On his way there, Josh stops by Gage Whitney in New York to see his friend, Sam.
• Josiah Bartlet speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, NH. Toby Ziegler thinks he's getting fired from the campaign. He and Jed Bartlet haven't known each other that long.
• Josh, Sam and C.J. join the Bartlet for America (1998) campaign
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part I)
November Leo asks Josiah Bartlet to run for President[1] Bartlet for America
1998 October 30 Leo meets with three possible investors, CEOs, for the last stretch of the campaign, as the election is too close to call. Leo relapses and drinks. Only Josh and the President know about it. Bartlet for America
1999
January 15 Cornell Rooker becomes the nominee for United States Attorney General. Andy and Toby are married and trying to have a baby. Debate Camp
January 20 Josiah Bartlet is sworn in as President of the United States Debate Camp
January 22 C.J. learns that Rooker is for racial profiling. The President learns that he can select historic art to loan for the White House and that there's a door from Leo's office to the Oval Office. Debate Camp
February 2 Donna plays an elaborate prank on Josh to get him back for 'Bambiesque', making him think the NSA is investigating her. Debate Camp
June Charlie's mother is shot and killed in the line of duty The Midterms
A Proportional Response
October Charlie applies for a messenger job and is hired as Personal Aide to the President of the United States
2000 March Josh tells Mandy that he's been working at the White House for 14 months Let Bartlet Be Bartlet
August 7 • Rosslyn, Virginia shooting What Kind of Day Has It Been?
August 14 • It's been 1 week since the shooting, meaning it's Monday and the shooting took place August 7, 2000.
• 12 weeks until the midterm elections
• Charlie and Zoey have been dating for 9 months
The Midterms
November 7 2000 United States Congressional Election
December 19 Yo-Yo Ma plays at the Congressional Christmas party. Josh's anxiety culminates and he breaks a window in his apartment. Noël
2001 April • Hoynes gives remarks distancing himself from Big Oil; Toby is confused by Hoynes intentions and spends a week figuring out that Hoynes doesn't think the President is running again. The President tells Toby the truth, about having Multiple Sclerosis
• C.J.'s father turns 70
The Stackhouse Filibuster17 People
Mid-May Mrs. Landingham is killed by a drunk driver. The President reveals that he suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and that he is running for re-election. 18th and PotomacTwo Cathedrals
Mid-June C.J. is considering resigning; Leo has brought in Bruno Gianelli, who brought in his associates Connie Tate and Doug Wegland to help with the re-election campaign. Manchester (Part I)
October 4 Cliff and Donna go on a date Ways and MeansWar Crimes
October 5 Cliff and Donna spend the night together; the next morning, Cliff sees Donna's diary War Crimes
October C.J. mentions in her briefing that it's the President's first veto since taking office 33 months prior On the Day Before
December 23 Leo goes in for his first testimony with Congress. Bartlet for America
2002 Before January 5 Leo and Jordon meet with Cliff Calley, who offers to end the hearings if the President agrees to Congressional Censure, by which Leo is appalled. 2 days later, the President agrees to the Censure. H.Con - 172
Mid-January The State of the Union 100,000 Airplanes

Gap theories

As Richard Nixon is the last President to be referred to in the show, the most popular timeline is that President Nixon resigned before he appointed Gerald Ford as his new VP or that his VP nominee was not confirmed by the Senate, therefore, there was no Vice President to assume the presidency. The theory goes on to say that the Speaker of the House (Carl Albert at the time) took office while the country decided to hold a special election to elect a new President rather than have the Speaker finish off Nixon's term.

This means that a Presidential election was held in November of 1974, and the winner was sworn-in on January 20, 1975, less than two years after Nixon resigned from office. This resets the election cycle every four years, with elections in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006 in the show (midterm years in real-life).

Known Facts

The following facts can be proven by information in the show.

  • Nixon is the last real-life President to be mentioned.[2]
  • Between 1970 and 2000, there were four Republican Presidents.[3]
  • Owen Lassiter was a two-term Republican.[4]
  • D. Wire Newman was a one-term Democrat.[4]
  • Bartlet's predecessor was likely a two-term moderate Republican.[5]

Real-time vs. "West Wing"

While many historical events are mentioned throughout the show, we find that the show itself does not follow the real-life timeline. Bartlet was elected in 1998, 2 years prior to the election of George W. Bush. The show ends with the election victory of Matt Santos in 2006, 2 years prior to the election of Barack Obama. The creators of the show left the timeline ambiguous in order to separate it from real-life, and to create their own alternate universe. In the series, no president after Richard Nixon exists in real-life. There are overlaps, as many policies implemented throughout the '70s and '80s exist in the show, but the presidents who created them do not.

References

  1. When Leo asked Josiah Bartlet to run for President is retconned to November '97 in Season 3, although the Season 2 premiere established this as happening a while beforehand.
  2. Six Meetings Before Lunch
  3. Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Stormy Present
  5. The Short List
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