Robert Ritchie (The West Wing)

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Robert Ritchie
Robert Ritchie.jpg
James Brolin as Robert Ritchie
First appearance "Posse Comitatus"
Last appearance "Game On"
Created by Aaron Sorkin
Portrayed by James Brolin
Occupation Republican Presidential Nominee
Spouse(s) Janet Ritchie

Robert Ritchie is a fictional character played by James Brolin on the television serial drama The West Wing. The character is a three-term Governor of Florida and the Republican nominee in the 2002 presidential election.


Ritchie runs for the nomination during his final term as Florida Governor, meaning he first won the Governorship in 1992. It is revealed during Season 7 that Ritchie defeated Carol Gelsey 54-46% in the 1996 election, and was re-elected in 2000 with 61 percent of the vote. Ritchie is somewhat of a come-from-behind nominee in the 2002 election season, with most political analysts believing the Republicans would never nominate such an intellectually simple candidate to combat the self-named "Education President" Josiah Bartlet. Even when polls show Ritchie pulling even with the then-frontrunner Senator Jim Simon, (who is never seen or mentioned again) most of the senior White House staff didn't believe he could win. Only Bartlet and Toby Ziegler, as Bartlet puts it, "know different." Vice President John Hoynes also warns the White House staff that they should take Ritchie seriously.

Ritchie is assumed to be the official Republican nominee after the episode "Hartsfield's Landing", which is the only episode showing any actual primary activity.


Ritchie's campaign staff show their inexperience when (in "The U.S. Poet Laureate") Bartlet has an open-mic gaffe, saying on B roll after an interview that he thought Ritchie was a ".22 caliber mind in a .357 Magnum world" (in other words calling Ritchie stupid, a point Democrats had been careful to avoid thus far). Ritchie's staff repeatedly give quotes to the press, trying to push the White House into officially commenting, but the whole episode winds up hurting Ritchie more, as every mention of the story fuels debate over whether Ritchie is smart enough to be President. Eventually the supposed gaffe is revealed to be an astute maneuver by Bartlet to question Ritchie's intelligence. Making the comment appear to be accidental allows him to avoid the backlash that would come from overtly attacking Ritchie this way. Bartlet also indicates that he chose a gun metaphor to subtly counter the perception that he is a liberal elitist. Or, as he says to Abbey, he really just didn't see the light (in a foreshadowing of his M.S.).

The Ritchie campaign retaliates with its own behind-the-scenes political maneuver. Republican campaign staffer Kevin Kahn anonymously sends Sam Seaborn a video cassette containing an attack ad against Bartlet which has no source or sponsor. Sam decides to sit down with Kahn, against the express wishes of Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, and Bruno Gianelli, and during the meeting hands the video over to Kahn (trying to show Bartlet wasn't attacking Ritchie, but also saying the Bartlet campaign had an ad like it "in a drawer" if the Ritchie campaign struck first). However, the whole exchange turns out to be a ploy from Kahn, who leaks the video to the press and tells them it was given to the Ritchie campaign by Sam. As such, the news report on the "story" of the leaked video and thereby constantly play a negative ad about the President for free. The Ritchie campaign remains untarnished, as there is no way to connect them to the video.

At the close of Season 3 ("Posse Comitatus"), Bartlet and Ritchie are both due to attend a Catholic fundraiser in New York City, a musical theater production of Shakespeare's King Henry plays known as The Wars of the Roses. Ritchie misses part of the play to go to a New York Yankees baseball game ("how ordinary Americans get their entertainment") in order to make Bartlet look elitist and out of touch. Toby Ziegler arranges for the Presidential Motorcade to drive up the Major Deegan Expressway to further delay Ritchie's arrival at the theater. When Ritchie and Bartlet do meet at the theater, Bartlet tells Ritchie about the recent murder of Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan, to which Ritchie says only "Crime. Boy, I don't know." Bartlet then suggests that he and Ritchie should have a presidential debate. They then have an exchange of words about why they appear to dislike each other, with Bartlet saying that Ritchie turns disengagement into "a Zen-like thing" and Ritchie describing Bartlet as "a superior sumbitch", an academic elitist, a snob, "Hollywood", weak, liberal and untrustworthy. At this point Bartlet leaves, warning Ritchie "in the future, if you're wondering, 'Crime. Boy, I don't know' is when I decided to kick your ass."

The Ritchie campaign agrees to only two debates, while the Bartlet camp wants five. A decision is handed down that there will be two debates using rules that do not allow for back-and-forth exchanges, despite Bartlet's wishes. As a result, Bartlet agrees to a single debate in exchange for rules that allow him to engage Ritchie. Bartlet scores an overwhelming victory in the one debate; even Ritchie himself admits defeat in the post-debate handshake. Ritchie whispers "It's over," to Bartlet, who replies "You'll be back". There is an election episode ("Election Night"), showing the official results of the election, but the debate is where Bartlet is considered to have beaten Ritchie.

Despite Bartlet's prediction, Ritchie is not among the names listed as the Republican candidates in the following election.


"West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin based the Ritchie character on his perception of President George W. Bush. Ritchie's intelligence is called into question, a common criticism of President Bush, and the character is the governor of Florida, as was the president's brother Jeb. Sorkin wrote the fictional 2002 election as a result of 2000 Democratic candidate Al Gore playing down his intelligence to compete against the folksy Bush. As a result, the West Wing election is in essence a version of events as Sorkin had wished to see them.[1] Sorkin would leave the show at the end of the fourth year, with executive producer John Wells taking a more active role in story development.[2] By contrast, in the 2006 election, Republican candidate Arnold Vinick is portrayed as likeable, principled, and intelligent.

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