Alan Alda as Arnold Vinick
|First appearance||"In the Room"|
|Portrayed by||Alan Alda|
|Nickname(s)||Arnie, "Big Sur" (Secret Service code name, S7E3)|
|Occupation||Four-term U.S. Senator (R-CA) (Seasons 6-7), Presidential Candidate(Seasons 6-7), incoming Secretary of State (Season 7)|
|Family||Richard Vinick (father), Patricia Vinick (mother)|
|Spouse(s)||Catherine Vinick (deceased)|
|Relatives||four children, nine grandchildren, one brother|
Arnold Vinick is a fictional character on the television series The West Wing played by Alan Alda. The role earned Alda the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2006.
He is a social moderate and fiscal conservative with a maverick streak and a direct manner whose politics are loosely based on those of Arizona senators John McCain and Barry Goldwater. Vinick is (like Goldwater) moderately pro-choice in the sense that he is opposed to partial-birth abortion and in favor of parental consent laws. He is also in favor of immigration reform and is reluctant to use gay marriage as a campaign issue. Vinick (like Goldwater) opposes the Religious Right's influence in the Republican Party, and wants to return to more traditional, limited government conservatism. Vinick has also been described as a deficit hawk, supporting "two-for-one" tax and spending cuts, and he also favors free trade agreements, school vouchers, and tort reform, while opposing ethanol subsidies in the Midwest as corporate welfare. He is also conservative on law-and-order issues, such as gun rights, border security, and the death penalty. Vinick is mixed on foreign policy, as he believes in a strong national defense and supports tough action against Iran, but was also described as an ally of Democratic President Josiah Bartlet on foreign policy issues and potentially an advocate of loosening the embargo on Cuba. It is stated that in his 2006 campaign, Vinick has strong support from corporate conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, Independents and "Bruno Gianelli" moderate Democrats, but that his support is weak among social and religious conservatives (7.06).
In one episode, Vinick mentioned growing up in a "citrus-growing" community. In response to this, the town of Santa Paula, which is famous for citrus growing and is often referred to as the "Citrus Capital of the World," wrote to The West Wing's production company, asking that Santa Paula be made Vinick's hometown. The production company promised to keep Santa Paula in mind for any campaign filming. In the meantime, the city council decided to organize a campaign for Vinick, including the opening of an Arnold Vinick presidential campaign headquarters. The town was eventually mentioned as Vinick's hometown in the episode "Two Weeks Out," broadcast on March 19, 2006.
The son of Richard Vinick, a public school teacher in the New York City School District, and Patricia Vinick, a community activist, Vinick was born in New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. Four years later, his younger brother was born and the family relocated to the southern California town of Santa Paula to farm orange groves. In Santa Paula, Vinick volunteered at the public library. Vinick was married to Catherine Vinick for around 30 years before she died. According to the NBC website, she died in 2004, and according to dialogue in "In God We Trust" Vinick stopped attending church with her "five or six years" before Vinick won the Republican nomination, because she was too sick to attend with him. He has one brother, four children and nine grandchildren.
After graduating from Yale and Stanford Law School, Vinick opened a law practice in Santa Paula. He was eventually elected to the city council in the town's first write-in victory. He served one term on the council before being elected to the California State Assembly. He then moved on the United States Senate where he won election with 6.9 million votes—the highest total for any Senate candidate at the time (Barbara Boxer in 2004 is the only Senator to have ever matched this number in the real world). Vinick has served in the Senate for 24 years as of the 2006 election (thereby, eliminating the terms of Pete Wilson, John F. Seymour, and Dianne Feinstein in the real world), meaning he won election in 1982.
According to the NBC website, Vinick serves as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and serves on the Committees on Foreign Relations and Environment and Public Works. However, when he is first introduced, it is also mentioned that as freshman senator he served on the Judiciary Committee and befriended then-committee staffer Eric Baker, who would later become the Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential/vice presidential contender. In the same episode, it is also stated that Vinick is the chairman of a committee which has been continually investigating the Bartlet Administration (a role he does not like), implying that he may be the Chair on Judiciary and possibly contradicting the website account, as senators generally only chair one committee. However, it is possible that over the course of his twenty-four years in the Senate he was the Chairman of the Finance and Judiciary Committees at different points and that in the course of the twenty-four years, the control of the Senate changed hands from Democrats to Republicans more than once (it is known that the Republicans gained control of the House and Senate in the fictional 1996 midterm elections and that the Democrats held control of the House and Senate before this), possibly making it so that Vinick was the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee prior to the Democrats gaining control, after which he might have opted to become the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1996. As this type of situation has occurred more than once with senators in the real world, it is reasonable to believe that such a situation happened with Vinick, as he was a popular, honorable, and intelligent senator.
Vinick was offered the post of Ambassador to the United Nations by President Josiah Bartlet's Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman, but declined as he intended to run for President. Lyman and former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry were concerned that Vinick, as an articulate and appealing centrist who might carry California in the Electoral College, offered the Republicans a real chance to win back the White House after two terms of Bartlet, a Democrat. However, both wondered if he was conservative enough to win the Republican nomination.
Vinick opposes federal funding for ethanol as an alcohol fuel, considering it a political boondoggle. He once told Josh Lyman, half-seriously, that he doesn't trust anyone who doesn't shine his own shoes. In the primaries, Vinick defeated the Reverend Don Butler and former Speaker of the House and Acting President Glen Allen Walken for the Republican nomination in the 2006 presidential election. Shortly after winning the nomination, Vinick met with Bartlet, whom he has a mutual measure of respect for, to discuss a deal to raise both the federal debt ceiling and the national minimum wage.
After the Reverend Butler declined to be his running mate in the 2006 election, due to Butler's strong pro-life views, Vinick, who felt he needed a staunch conservative to balance the ticket, selected Governor Ray Sullivan of West Virginia.
It is hinted in several episodes that Vinick is an atheist, agnostic, or other religious skeptic. Though this has been hinted it in his public statements, he has not actually made an explicit statement on the matter. Vinick may also be a book collector, having received a 17th-century King James Bible from his late wife. Her death, and the harsh requirements of Old Testament Judaic law which he discovered when he read the Bible in depth, made him question his own religious beliefs.
In the seventh season of the show, Vinick and Sullivan are running against Congressman Matt Santos of Texas, the Democratic nominee, and his running mate, former White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Labor Leo McGarry. Democratic political consultant Bruno Gianelli is a consultant on his campaign, initially with an ambitious plan to win all 50 states.
Throughout the campaign, Vinick and Santos treat each other with mutual respect. (In the episode "King Corn," it is revealed that, two years before the election, Vinick and Santos co-sponsored an immigration reform bill that was defeated in committee on Capitol Hill.)
At the outset of the only Santos–Vinick debate, Vinick proposed to have "a real debate," without time limits on speaking; i.e. to ignore the rules to which their campaigns had agreed. Santos agreed. During the debate, Vinick tried to paint Santos as a typical liberal Democrat who would raise taxes to pay for intrusive big government programs while still leaving the federal budget unbalanced. The senator laid out a moderate agenda and reiterated his support for tax cuts, proposed tax-deductibility for health insurance costs, explained why he had voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, opposed a moratorium on the federal death penalty, promised to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, and declared his strong support for nuclear power. He was heckled by a member of the audience for claiming that Head Start didn't work, but perhaps his most surprising comment and show of blunt honesty was his remark that he would not create any new jobs, saying that, in a free society, entrepreneurs, not the government, create jobs.
In the middle of the campaign, as Vinick enjoyed a huge lead over Santos, a nuclear reactor in Southern California comes close to meltdown, creating a panic for millions living in the vicinity. In the episode "Duck and Cover" it is revealed that Vinick, as a Senator from California, pushed for the plant's opening and speedy approval by regulators. The reactor did not melt down, although when the story broke that Vinick was a major supporter of the plant, his poll numbers dropped dramatically, putting numerous states, including California (which, despite leaning Democratic in presidential elections in both reality and the show, was thought to be safe for Vinick, given that was his home state), into play and causing the election to become too close to call.
After a staff shakeup prompted by the Republican National Committee, Vinick decided to go to California on the heels of the Santos campaign, and hold a press conference outside of the San Andreo plant in order to defuse the political fallout from the incident. His strategy seems to have been effective, as he returned to his straight-talking style, exhausting reporters of their questions and commandeering live news coverage from his opponent's campaign.
Despite this strategy's success (the Senator won his home state of California), Vinick lost the presidential election to Santos by 272 electoral votes to 266. Vinick conceded the election after Nevada, the decisive state, was carried by Santos by about 30,000 votes. Although Vinick was urged by his staff to contest the election, he refused to do so, saying "I will be a winner or a loser, but I will not be a sore loser."
Secretary of State
After the election, Vinick appeared to be positioning himself to run again in 2010 against Santos, but his advisors tried to convince him that there were other Republicans who should run and that his age would be a hindrance. It is stated that Vinick would be seventy by the 2010 election. Impressed by his foreign policy acuity, President-elect Santos asked Vinick to join his administration as Secretary of State. Vinick initially turned him down, but his top aides, persuading him that a next run at the presidency would be futile, told him he could go down in history as "the last honorable Senator and a great Secretary of State". He then accepted when Santos also assured him that he could perform the job on his own terms, without partisan politics.
A New York Times article published on April 10, 2006 reported that, if not for the death of actor John Spencer, Vinick would have won the election. According to the article, the writers felt it would be too depressing for Santos to lose his running mate and the election in one day, so the plot was changed to have Vinick lose, but narrowly.
Statements from executive producer John Wells, however, contradicted claims about a previously planned Vinick victory. The script showing Santos winning was written long before the death of John Spencer. In 2008 executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. stated to cameras "We actually planned at the outset for Jimmy Smits to win, that was our .. just .. plan of how this was all going to work, but the Vinick character came on so strong in the show, and was so effective, it became a real contest ... and it became a real contest in the West Wing writer's room.
Comparisons have been made between Vinick and Arizona Senator John McCain, who was the Republican presidential candidate in the 2008 Presidential Election. However, West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie insists that the character is not based on any real-life politician, but was simply a function of the casting of Alan Alda.
- The West Wing
- List of characters on The West Wing
- List of politicians on The West Wing
- List of The West Wing episodes
- Steinberg, Jacques, West Wing Writers' Novel Way of Picking the President New York Times, April 10, 2006.
- BBC "President Hollywood" for BBC4, Jonathan Freedland