Before Americans elected Celebrity Apprentice star Donald Trump to be their president, TV presidents had only The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) to measure themselves against.
It wasn’t much of a contest – only 24’s David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) came close – which may be why most US presidents on TV are no longer even trying to win the popular vote. It’s enough just to get our attention.
As HBO’s Veep returns for a sixth, side-splittingly cynical view of life inside the Beltway, we hail Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ (now former) President Selina Meyer and other current TV US commanders-in-chief.
President Donald Trump, who knows a thing or two about grabbing focus, probably doesn’t have time to watch his fictional counterparts.
But what if he did? Here’s what might interest him.
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
Known for: Inflated ego, foul mouth, chronic ineptitude, and, now, after having been rejected by both the American people and Congress, for lasting only a short time in an office to which she was never elected.
What might interest (or annoy) Trump: In Veep-world, Meyer, not he, was the 45th president. (She started out the show as vice president.) Louis-Dreyfus has won five Emmys in a row for playing the character (the actress also has an Emmy apiece for Seinfeld and The New Adventures Of Old Christine). Trump has complained of never having won for The Apprentice. And then there’s the shot Louis-Dreyfus seemed to be taking in her acceptance speech last fall, when she apologised for the 2016 political climate, saying: “Our show started as a political satire – now it feels like a sobering documentary.”
What any politician might admire: Meyer’s resiliency, and her long stretch of good luck. Until she lost the presidency at the end of last season, Veep was a show where “no bad deed goes punished”.
Fitzgerald Grant III (Tony Goldwyn)
Known for: His long affair with one-time aide Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who helped steal the presidency for him and with whom he once dreamed of retiring to Vermont. Survived assassination attempt, White House divorce. Won re-election but lost son. Oh, and he once murdered a Supreme Court justice.
What might interest Trump: Fitz is a Republican who has had his trials with the far right and has tried to move his party closer to the centre.
What any politician might admire: The president’s ability to control otherwise smart women (and not a few men) with his puppy-dog eyes.
Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel)
Known for: Being a Gold Star mother – her son was killed in combat in Iraq – who may be wary of being drawn into other wars. Represented New York in the US Senate. Took advice from former CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), until she didn’t. Bears uncanny resemblance to Heather Dunbar, who ran for president in House Of Cards (and who was also played by Marvel). Might be a touch paranoid, even if the deep state was out to get her.
What might interest Trump: Keane’s mistrust of the intelligence community.
What any politician might admire: Her willingness to take on a cable purveyor of truly fake news (Jake Weber, Medium) who had maligned her son’s memory.
Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey)
Show: House Of Cards
Known for: Being evil, breaking the fourth wall to address audience directly, and his Lady Macbeth-like spouse, Claire (Robin Wright), who at the end of last season became his running mate as the Democratic nominee for vice president. Killed a dog in show’s first episode. Has also murdered people.
What might interest Trump: Underwood’s plan to fund 10 million jobs by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
What any politician might admire: Underwood’s ability to pivot (made easier by his apparent lack of any fixed principles).
Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland)
Show: Designated Survivor
Known for: Succeeding to the presidency because he happened to be the cabinet member left behind when the Capitol building was bombed during the State of the Union address, killing the president, vice president, and nearly all of Congress.
What might interest Trump: Kirkman’s an independent who has been given the opportunity to rebuild much of the federal government from scratch. Though that’s not turning out to be as much fun as it might sound, given that people seem to be trying to kill him.
What any politician might admire: The way Kirkman, who’s far less confident than Sutherland’s Jack Bauer was in 24, seems to be growing on the job.
Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine)
Show: Madam Secretary
Known for: Being the former CIA director who recruited and trained Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) as an analyst and later persuaded her to become his secretary of state. Lost his party’s primary because, pushed by McCord, he acknowledged climate change. At his best in the Situation Room.
What might interest Trump: Dalton was a Republican who ended up winning re-election as an independent, though not before the whole mess ended up in the House of Representatives. Also frequently upstaged by McCord, whose title’s on the show.
What any politician might admire: Dalton’s ability to appear both pragmatic and personable. – Philadelphia Daily News/Tribune News Service/Ellen Gray