As we enter the final months of the presidential primary campaigns, the average American is being bombarded by the candidates, advertising, and media, all in service of touting the relative strengths and weaknesses of their electoral choices. Clinton’s foreign policy bona fides are measured against the profound reforms championed by Bernie Sanders; the religious messianism of Ted Cruz gets weighed against the economic populism of Donald Trump. (Somewhere in a corner, John Kasich smiles sadly, thumbing through his track record of anti-choice zealotry.) Presidential elections are nothing if not a cornucopia of endlessly massaged talking points, barreling onwards toward a vanishing point of near-Euclidean perfection.
But all these people telling us what we want in a president are forgetting something vital: We’ve already been taught these lessons. The examples of presidents in movies, TV, and games offer insight for us all on the qualities we want in the Oval Office—and those we’d rather avoid encountering. Since birth, we’ve seen endless case studies of fictional presidents, showing us both the best (The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet) and the worst (The Simpsons’ President Kang) individuals for the job. And now, in 2016, we’ve got more options than ever for a cultural/political education. Which is why The A.V. Club would like to invite all those of pop-culture voting age (that is to say, anyone reading this right now) to participate in our first-ever Pop-Culture Presidential Election. We’ve taken 11 of the most noteworthy fictional presidents from the past half-decade of entertainment and placed them in contention, for referendum from the vox populi.
A few caveats: We’ve left everything prior to 2010 off the table. (Only the freshest and most aromatic fictional presidents will serve our purposes.) Secondly, we’ve removed anything resembling a biopic from consideration. (No Lincoln, no W.) And lastly, we’ve tried to hew toward the elected officials who don’t necessarily get the attention they should, meaning you’ll get the privilege of evaluating Sharknado 3 President Mark Cuban’s qualifications for the highest office. The winner will receive an official campaign ad from us, while whoever accrues the fewest votes will get their very own attack ad. At the bottom, you’ll find your electoral ballot. Happy voting! (Unlike the real-life process, which seems one reference to tiny hands away from ushering in the apocalypse.)
President Matthew Ellis (Iron Man 3, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Meet the candidate: As the current Oval Office resident in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, President Ellis (William Sadler) has seen more than his fair share of crises. From marauding aliens popping out of a giant wormhole above Manhattan, to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D., to being saved from a maniacal fire-breathing Guy Pearce by Iron Man, he’s well-versed in both human and non-human threats.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? He actually looks somewhat similar to John Kasich on a purely physical level, but when it comes to tough foreign-policy bona fides (very foreign), he’s all Hillary Clinton.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of an Ellis administration? The biggest difference would likely be America’s new Advanced Threat Containment Unit, which will have a very large bank account, and a very tough time explaining why so many resources have been put toward protecting the planet from alien and inhuman threats, neither of which has yet been seen in our universe. So, basically an even greater budget deficit. [Alex McCown]
President Selina Meyer (Veep)
Meet the candidate: Is Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) a petty, vindictive narcissist? Well, yes—this is a person who laughs off mudslides in Idaho after the state fails to award her its electoral votes. But that doesn’t mean she lacks the capacity to care about her constituents. The trouble is, on those rare occasions when Meyer does decide to care about the American people, her hopes for meaningful change are reliably thwarted by the incompetence of her staff, who complement Meyer’s egotism with their own craven instincts for self-preservation.
What real-life candidate does she most resemble? She combines the practiced public persona of Hillary Clinton with the cheery fecklessness of Martin O’Malley.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of a Meyer presidency? Washington would be a morass of dysfunction, with the mechanisms of policy-making gummed up by narrow-minded, short-sighted political infighting. In other words, it would look the America of today, except funnier. [John Teti]
President Conrad Dalton (Madam Secretary)
Meet the candidate: President Dalton (Keith Carradine) is a longtime government servant, from his time in the army during the Vietnam War, to his stint as director of the CIA, to his subsequent rise to the highest office in the land. So far as we know, there are no dark secrets in his closet, and he’s been pretty damn capable, whether dealing with terrorist groups or Russian assassination conspiracies.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? He’s a no-nonsense guy, unflashy and less than concerned with optics. The anti-Trump, if you will. John Kasich is the most approximate comparison.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of a Dalton administration? Probably not that unlike America today, but with less gridlock in Congress. That’s nothing to sneeze at. [Alex McCown]
Evil Barack Obama (Kingsman: The Secret Service)
Meet the candidate: One of only two examples on the ballot of fictional presidents so outlandishly different from their real-life counterparts that we just had to include them. Evil Barack Obama is part of a global conspiracy of elites, led by Samuel Jackson’s lisping tech billionaire, to wipe out almost all of humanity as part of a failsafe tactic against climate change. We only ever see the back of his head—and then, at the very end, his head in a slightly different composition (no spoilers)—but it’s still a very authoritative and commanding head.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? Too bad Obama’s not running again, huh? But the extremist homicidal tendencies he will go to peg him as someone not all that different from Ted Cruz, who would likely welcome World War III as a real opportunity for the Rapture to get here already.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of an Evil Obama administration? It’d be a hell of a lot sparser, that’s for sure. You could probably get prime real estate in Malibu for the cost of a steak. Traffic congestion would be a thing of the past. No lines at the movie theater! Really, it would be paradise—as long as you were part of the 1 percent who survived the “everyone dies” initiative. Otherwise, not so great. [Alex McCown]
President James Sawyer, President Benjamin Asher (White House Down; Olympus Has Fallen; London Has Fallen)
Meet the candidates: James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) have the distinction of being the only duo in this race, following the dubious honor of being the only candidates who were held captive in their own home, i.e., the White House, by would-be assassins. Not only does this twofer bring more than 12 years of imaginary experience to the table, it has a built-in plan B for whenever one or the other inevitably goes missing. These co-presidents would also render a veep redundant, which could help balance the budget.
What real-life candidate do they most resemble? We’re going to have to go with Jeb Bush, because of the legacy aspect (Sawyer’s a two-term president), but mostly due to the fact that Bush vanished from the voters’ collective memory before his campaign was officially over.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of a Sawyer-Asher administration? Assuming Sawyer and Asher made it through four years without being assassinated, the defense budget and Secret Service details would probably be five times their current size. [Danette Chavez]
President Business (The Lego Movie)
Meet the candidate: Not just the president of Lego’s ubiquitous fictional oil company Octan, but also the entire Lego world, President Business (Will Ferrell) seems like everything you’d want in an elected leader. He’s ambitious, he creates jobs, and he knows the importance of tapping Tegan And Sara when you need a good inspirational anthem to get your people moving. It’s just a pity that he’s also a megalomaniacal perfectionist, who seeks to glue the world in place as the villainous Lord Business.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? Physically, Business is a dead ringer for 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, from back when that seemed like the worst possible outcome of a Republican presidential primary. On the other hand, the “self-obsessed business tycoon who wants to shape the world in his own hideous visage” thing is so perfectly Trump that 2014’s The Lego Movie now seems eerily prophetic.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of a Business administration? Depends. The Lego Movie ends with Business repenting his ways, so we might be living in a utopia of limitless creativity and carefully licensed corporate crossovers. On the other hand, we’ve never actually heard of a politician changing their deeply held beliefs, so you might want to keep an emergency bunker full of glue-dissolving mineral spirits at the ready. [William Hughes]
President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Thomas Grant III (Scandal)
Meet the candidate: Silver-spooned golden boy “Fitz” (Tony Goldwyn) was raised by an irascible senator, tossed into a Navy career, and then got elected governor of California, apparently leaving him with few options other than a run for the White House. Fortunately/unfortunately, this campaign was run by one Olivia Pope, and the two fell in love on the campaign trail, much to the dismay of the first lady, the chief of staff, and the balance of the universe. With his main relationship in a constant state of flux, it’s hard to believe Fitz can focus on running the country at all, but he always makes time to pull off acts of war to save his hostaged paramour, or wrangle legislation for causes she’s interested in. Nevertheless, current status: single.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? His family legacy makes him seem like a long-lost relative in the Jeb Bush camp. But despite his Republican status, with his progressive politics and Oval Office dalliances, he most closely resembles Hillary Clinton’s husband.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of a Grant administration? After an inexplicable Republican president who’s for gun control, same-sex marriage, and raising the minimum wage, the now-officially-useless two-party system finally dissolves. [Gwen Ihnat]
Meet the candidate: Robbins (Mark Cuban) appears to be a compassionate conservative, the kind of gun-toting guy who initially wants to rehome all of the wayward sharks that have wrought such havoc. But when the dorsal-finned bastards come crashing through his door, he readily shifts to wartime-president mode, hurling grenades into gaping maws and blasting the sharks to bits with a shotgun. To really drive home the point that he’ll protect this country at any cost, he impales a shark with the American flag.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? Due to a slight resemblance and similar names, Robbins appears to be a stand-in for Marco Rubio. All that sea water in the air would probably leave him as thirsty as the Florida senator, too. And Robbins’ about-face on preserving sea life is in the spirit of Rubio’s climate-change denial.
What would America in 2020 look like after a Robbins administration? Robbins’ time in office was riddled with sharknados, so he would presumably have led the efforts for the development of an early warning system, as well as defunded the EPA. So, a global ecological disaster. [Danette Chavez]
President Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
Meet the candidate: Does he really need an introduction? Okay, fine: Born in a log cabin, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) becomes handy with an ax, a skill that turns him into a prominent vampire hunter. But all that righteous killing comes before a career in politics, which takes him all the way to the White House, where he plans to abolish slavery despite the accord that’s been reached by the government that effectively offers up slaves as a food supply for vampires. Lincoln leads the country through the Civil War and defeats the undead, just like in the Tennyson poem.
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? No one’s record even comes close, no matter what Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters say. And despite the “Honest” moniker, the filter-free Donald Trump isn’t really in contention either. That leaves the independent candidate Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who could have cut down vampires in his pro-wrestling heyday.
What would America in 2020 look like after a Lincoln administration? The nation would have prospered in this vampire-free era, but time (the guy would be about 200 years old) or John Wilkes Booth would still have cut Lincoln’s latest term short. [Danette Chavez]
The Boss (Saints Row IV)
Meet the candidate: The star of the Saints Row games is a true American success story. Having already gone from common thug to international celebrity and charming leader of a global criminal organization, The Boss made it to the White House after disarming a nuclear bomb that was aimed at Washington D.C. The former superstar criminal brings an unparalleled audacity and brusqueness to the presidency, preferring to deal with matters like Congressional gridlock in a more hands-on fashion. And did we mention The Boss shares the ticket with Keith David?
What real-life candidate do they most resemble? The Boss is the ultimate populist candidate. They can look like anyone, and they speak with a brashness only peak Donald Trump could come close to matching. Even then, Trump’s outbursts have the unmistakable air of political calculation. The Boss, on the other hand, is 100-percent real.
What would America look like in 2020 after four years of a Boss administration? With their leader running America, The Saints would likely enjoy expanded power and legal immunity to the point where all crime but their own is eliminated with deadly force. On the bright side, having an openly pansexual president might make the country more sex-positive. [Matt Gerardi]
President Frank Underwood (House Of Cards [U.S.])
Meet the candidate: When the Netflix adaptation of the British series House Of Cards began, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) was the House Majority Whip, which is a lofty position to be sure, but not lofty enough for this inveterate schemer. Having never met a constitutional loophole he couldn’t exploit—or a political threat he couldn’t murder—Underwood wheedles and cajoles his way to the Oval Office with the help of his wife Claire, whose shrewdness matches his own (to Frank’s eventual consternation).
What real-life candidate does he most resemble? Underwood’s domestic economic liberalism and hawkish foreign policy create parallels to Hillary Clinton, but he’s defined more by a Ted Cruz-esque ability to manipulate the rules and regulations of government to his personal advantage.
What would America in 2020 look like after four years of an Underwood presidency? The effects of a trade war with China would make trips to Wal-Mart more painful, as the cost of consumer goods would skyrocket. But Americans might have bigger concerns in their mind, as an endless dick-measuring contest between Underwood and the Russian premier would keep the country on the edge of nuclear war. It’ll be like the Cuban Missile Crisis, except forever! [John Teti]