Matthew Vincente Santos is a fictional character on the American television show The West Wing, played by Jimmy Smits. His initial appearance was as a Democratic U.S. Representative from Houston, Texas. He was later elected to succeed Josiah Bartlet as President in the final episodes of the series. According to David Remnick‘s biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge, and other news sources, West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie used then-Illinois State Senator Obama as a model for the character.

Personal life

Santos, a Catholic, was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. He was born in either 1963 (in 2005, Josh says Santos is 42) or in 1961 (in 2006, Santos himself says he is 45). One of seven children born to Luis and Marita Santos, he grew up in the Second Ward the oldest Mexican-American neighborhood in Houston and home to six generations of the Santos family. Luis Santos was a barber, while Marita Santos was a domestic servant.

He has been married to Helen Santos (played by Teri Polo) for 15 years, and they have two children, Peter and Miranda, who are 11 and 5, respectively, at the time of their father’s inauguration.

Santos attended Jackson Middle School and Austin High School in Houston, Texas. He then attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating at the top of his class with a degree in engineering. At Annapolis, he played football until he injured his knee. Santos speaks three languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese). After graduating he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Santos was a naval aviator, qualified on carrier-based fighter aircraft (the F/A-18 Hornet), and saw action during the first Persian Gulf War. Since leaving active duty in 1993, he has served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves.

Santos was elected to Houston City Council, where he served for two years until his election as mayor. He served for four years (two terms of two years) as mayor, during which he opened four new healthcare clinics to serve Houston’s families. As mayor, Santos also created a new housing assistance program to make rent more affordable for the city’s two million residents. Santos was then elected to the United States House of Representatives during the 2000 midterm elections representing the 18th Congressional District and served for three terms. It was mentioned that during his third term as a congressman he had received a spot on the prestigious House Committee on Ways and Means, although he also served on the House Administration Committee (“the Siberia of committees”) with then-congressman Bob Russell.

Presidential campaign

Santos is first seen in 2005 as a member of United States House of Representatives, who is regarded as an effective legislator and a potential candidate for Governor of Texas. Despite his age and policy savvy, Santos is about to retire due to his frustration with Washington politics. He plans to return to Houston and open more health-care clinics alongside those he created while he was that city’s mayor. However, then Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman persuades him to run for president of the United States and becomes his campaign manager. Santos begins his run for the Democratic nomination as a long-shot candidate with little name recognition or funding; polls show him far behind the sitting Vice President Bob Russell and the former Vice President John Hoynes. However, as the primaries progress, Santos rises to third place in most opinion polls. On the day before the California primary, Hoynes is engulfed in a sex scandal. He had already resigned as President Josiah Bartlet‘s vice president in a similar scandal three years before, and when Hoynes cancels a trip to California to avoid highlighting his further sexual impropriety, his absence allows Santos to receive the implicit endorsement of the governor of California, resulting in an upset victory.

One of his major presidential campaign platform planks is the reform of public education in the United States. Santos says the school year should be at least 240 days out of the year, so America can more effectively compete in the global economy. He also supports abolishing teacher tenure in order to increase accountability.

As he gained momentum, Congressman Santos won many more states. By the start of the Democratic National Convention, he had won enough delegates to virtually tie with front-runner Russell and had won battleground states, including Texas, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Prior to the convention, Santos turned down Russell’s offer of the vice-presidential nomination, still intending to win the top spot on the ticket.

During the convention, Governor Eric Baker of Pennsylvania, who had previously decided against running for president and was to be Russell’s running mate, presented himself as a candidate from the floor. The Pennsylvanian drew delegate votes from all of the candidates and extended the balloting to an unprecedented third day. When Russell campaign manager Will Bailey revealed to the press that Baker had concealed his wife’s history of clinical depression, Baker lost essential delegate support.

Because many delegates had deserted the Pennsylvania governor, the convention returned to the status it had been on the first day, with Russell and Santos as the frontrunners. To secure a Democratic nominee, Santos was ordered by the convention organizer, former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, to step aside in favor of either Baker or Russell. The Texan was given a chance to address the convention with the understanding that it would be his farewell speech.

Instead of withdrawing, however, Santos gave a rousing speech that energized the convention and convinced them of his sincerity. This speech persuaded President Bartlet to intervene on Santos’ behalf; he speaks to teacher union leader and New York delegate Ernie Gambelli, who had previously thought Santos was “anti-teacher,” to ensure his nomination. After Governor Baker declined to be the Texas congressman’s running mate and Santos rejected Russell as a potential vice president, Santos chose former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry as his vice-presidential nominee.

In the seventh season of the show, Santos and McGarry run against Senator Arnold Vinick of California, the Republican Party‘s presidential nominee, and his running mate, Governor Ray Sullivan of West Virginia. Throughout the campaign, Santos and Vinick treat each other with professional respect. (In the episode “King Corn”, it is revealed that, two years before the election, Santos and Vinick co-sponsored an immigration reform bill that was defeated in committee.)

In Santos’ only debate with Vinick, both candidates agreed to ignore the rules their campaigns had laboriously agreed upon. Instead, they had, in Vinick’s words, “a real debate,” without time limits on their responses. During the debate, Santos reiterated his commitment to greater federal involvement in public education, opposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supported a moratorium on the federal death penalty and pledged never to go to war for oil. He also said he had initially supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on the Ways and Means Committee, but voted against it when special interest amendments were attached. He criticized Senator Vinick for relying too heavily on tax cuts to stimulate the economy. However, his most surprising comment of the night came when he said that he “wasn’t crazy” about his healthcare plan, since it was ambiguous enough to pass the Congress, and voiced his opinion that Medicare should be part of a public option for the whole country.

After a nuclear plant accident in San Andreo, California, Santos picked up momentum in battleground states for his anti-nuclear power views. This newfound momentum becomes more apparent after the media reports Vinick was key in authorizing construction of the San Andreo Plant. Several days later, national polls showed Santos tied with Vinick in the popular vote at 44 percent.

Election aftermath

Despite the death of his running mate Leo McGarry on election night, Santos was narrowly elected president of the United States after defeating Arnold Vinick in the Electoral College by a vote of 272-266. Santos carried his home state of Texas, while Vinick won his home state of California; Santos clinched the election by winning Nevada with a margin of 30,000 votes. Despite the strong urging of his senior campaign staff, Vinick chose not to contest the results and conceded the election. Well aware of Vinick’s insight on U.S. foreign policy, Santos later offered Vinick the position of Secretary of State in his administration, a move not greeted with enthusiasm by his top advisers and skepticism by Vinick. Vinick accepted the offer under the condition that he would be free to shape policy at the State Department without interference from Democratic Party political operatives and on the promise that he could pick his own deputy secretary, albeit a Democratic one, and advise on the selection of all undersecretaries. They sealed this agreement while reviewing the president’s daily intelligence briefing and discussing how to resolve the situation in Kazakhstan vis-a-vis Russia and China.

The last few episodes of the series cover the end of the Bartlet administration and the transition to the new one. Santos is forced to remain neutral while Democrats pick a new Speaker of the House, and he declines to tip the race in favor of his political mentor, Democratic Congressman Tim Fields of Texas, who loses to Congressman Mark B. Sellner, a moderate Democrat who opposes Santos’ centerpiece anti-lobbying bill. He also earns C.J. Cregg‘s ire when he makes a negative comment about President Bartlet’s policy toward China, but it turns out Santos and Bartlet have come up with a “good cop, bad cop” plan to try and scare China (and Russia) into ending their military incursions into Kazakhstan. Santos’s administration takes shape in advance of his inauguration, with Josh Lyman being appointed as his chief of staff. Lyman recruits his old friend and former White House Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn as his deputy. From the Santos-McGarry campaign come Louise Thornton as the new Communications Director, Ronna Beckman as the President’s personal secretary while Donna Moss and Annabeth Schott join the first lady’s office as chief of staff and press secretary respectively. Amy Gardner is offered the post of director of legislative affairs, while Ainsley Hayes puts her name forward for the post of White House Counsel. Santos indicates his wish to appoint Oliver Babish as attorney general. He selects Nancy McNally as ambassador to the United Nations, though she was initially considered for secretary of state. Santos also considers choosing Senator Swain of Rhode Island, a Republican, as his secretary of Defense on the advice of Barry Goodwin, although Josh strongly opposed this as choosing a Republican Senator from a blue state would be seen as a “political grab.” It was also revealed that someone named Keenitz was Santos’ choice for Agriculture secretary, with the Kansas City Star discovering this and asking for comment. For Treasury Secretary, Santos chose between two highly confirmable candidates; Connor, who was more popular among Democrats, and Rosenthal, who was more respected by Wall Street but had few administrative skills. Santos ultimately chose Rosenthal, as he would be better selling the administration’s tax plan. Kate Harper was passed over for promotion to national security adviser, with this role instead going to someone named Glenn. His first choice for vice president is Governor Eric Baker of Pennsylvania, a 2006 Democratic presidential contender. Congresswoman Carol Gelsey, a Florida Democrat, had been second on Santos’ shortlist. Santos decides to nominate Baker under the terms of the 25th Amendment once his term has begun, rather than submitting his name to the Electoral College for virtually automatic appointment.

Presidential appointees

Cabinet officials

The Santos Cabinet
Office Name Term
Vice President Eric Baker (Ed O’Neill) 2007–
Secretary of State
Secretary of Treasury
Attorney General
Secretary of Agriculture
Chief of Staff
Ambassador to the United Nations