At the end of the "24 Hours in America" two-parter, Donna scolds Josh and Toby for politicizing everything, claiming that, in all the time they were making their way from Indiana to D.C., not a single person they met brought up the Bartlet vs. Ritchie election except them. This is not actually true. At several points along the way, either Josh or Toby would mention simply that they worked for Bartlet, and the person they were talking to would immediately shoot back, "Didn't vote for him the first time, don't plan to the second time."
In the episode "Talking Points," it's revealed that a trade agreement that the President has been pushing through, and which Josh personally negotiated, will cost the jobs of more than 70,000 communications workers, a union which Josh and the President personally promised during the campaign that they would protect their jobs. After an episode of moral agonizing by Josh, the President sits him down and gives him a lecture about how the President really doesn't have any control over the economy, and the only thing they did wrong was making a promise they couldn't keep. Josh agrees, and this becomes the episode's Aesop. The Aesop breaks, however, when you remember that these jobs aren't being lost spontaneously, and this trade deal didn't happen in a vacuum. The President and his entire staff have spent months negotiating it and working to get it passed by Congress. The idea that they have no control over it is completely ludicrous.
The President was saying that globalization happens with or without the President's influence. It dovetails with Leo's speech on why attempting to stop globalization would be insane. The President is acknowledging that he cannot turn back the tide of losing jobs in certain industries.
Ending Aversion: Though a lot of the disgruntled Sorkin fans jumped back on board for the election arc, which was handled better than Sorkin's in season four, many experienced this trope due to post-Sorkin Seasonal Rot.
Executive Meddling: Sorkin wanted to get Josh and Donna together. He kept being told "Wait another season!" The chemistry was apparent from the pilot and didn't get fulfilled until the last season.
Fan Girl: Josh Lyman's "hos" on lemonlyman.com. In fact, he has college girls asking for his autograph and telling him how awesome he is as early as the third episode.
The unanimously-accepted fact that CJ calls Josh "mi amore" on a regular basis (she does it only once or twice on the actual show.)
Sam becomes President in all future-fics that mention him. Exceptions are rare and do not occur without a very significant and compelling reason. This, at least, has its roots in President Bartlet's remark, "You're going to run for President one day. Don't be scared. You can do it."
Funny Aneurysm Moment: Santos is talking with Leo about his viability as VP candidate: "I'm not gonna fire you. You want out, you're gonna have to drum up another heart attack or something."
Genius Bonus: Sometimes things happening in the background only have real significance if you already know what's happening. In one episode, Sam takes it upon himself to cut government spending by eliminating pointless reports. One of the "pointless" reports they decide to scrap is about "some mussel in the Great Lakes". This is a real issue Ripped from the Headlines, as the zebra mussel is an invasive species (akin to the rabbits of Australia) that's causing significant problems in North American waterways.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Despite being a program entirely about American politics (which are confusing even to Americans) and which constantly extols the virtues of a liberal democratic (small L, small D) system of government, the show is extremely popular in China.
Being highly researched by the creative staff, a great number of things that would later become hot-button issues were present in the show from day one, but some things the writers probably never anticipated would mean what they do today.
"[...] at this moment we do not know the whereabouts of about a half-dozen cell leaders, including bin Laden[...]" -Original air date, October 4th 2000
In the Season 4 premier, Leo and Fitz are discussing the assassination of Abdul ibn Shareef, which was carried out by the U.S. Fitz explains, "These were Navy SEALs. These were Special Ops. They know what they're doing."
"There's a situation developing in Port-Au-Prince, I have to get ready to brief." -Original air date, May 9th 2001
The Haiti sub-plot at the beginning of season 4 was a reference to the 1991 Haitian coup and subsequent US diplomatic intervention to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"The government can't be in the business of cosigning loans." -Original air date, May 1st, 2002. Non-interventionist ideals of 2002, meet 2008.
And the first season finale, where the President half-seriously threatens to invade Baghdad; in an episode during which the Space Shuttle Columbia is having reentry problems.
Probably the Most Triumphant Example in the series: Leo has a heart attack in season six shortly after an argument with Bartlet. It's shown in excruciating detail. In season seven, both the character and the actor would die of a heart attack.
In the very first episode of Season 7, Leo offers to resign from the ticket if Santos thinks he's dragging it down. Santos tells him the only way he can get out of it is to have another heart attack.
Informed Attractiveness: In The Wake Up Call, Miss World visits the White House and brings to a standstill the business of every male that crosses her path. While beautiful, she isn't particularly more mindblowing than many of the other actresses appearing on the show. Luckily, it still works because it's utterly hilarious.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The special episode "Issac and Ishmael" is significantly more ham-handed and message-driven than The West Wing usually is, but it works well enough given the extraordinary circumstances that generated its necessity.
Often. For example, in the episode "18th and Potomac," Josh meets with two House Democrats holding up funds for the anti-Big Tobacco lawsuits. While the audience's sympathies are clearly supposed to be with Josh, the two congressmen make cogent arguments that the tobacco companies' actions, while sleazy, weren't actually criminal. Josh's response is to accuse them of not caring if smokers die or not.
When Bartlet's rival Rob Ritchie chastises him as an elitist who can't be trusted, We are clearly supposed to cheer as Bartlet lays a verbal putdown on the thinly veiled George Bush expy who epitomises all negative political stereotypes. It doesn't change the fact that He is,in part, right. Bartlet did betray the trust of the American people by not disclosing his serious medical condition and make Their choice accordingly, a fact for which He never really suffers. Ritchie's justifiable distaste comes across as Informed Wrongness.
Unfortunate Implications: While heartwarming, the resolution of Senator Stackhouse's filibuster only after the staff discovers that he has an autistic grandchild implies that it's okay to ignore the needs of thousands of American children, unless one of them has an "in" with a member of congress, in which case it's fine to put an entire bill on hold to grant a personal favor for a family member. Very likely Truth in Television.
WTH? Casting Agency: The original Al Bundy has made a couple of guest appearances as the Governor of Pennsylvania, who is the frontrunning candidate for President.
Speaker Haffley in "Shutdown". Bartlet decides to go to the Hill to work out an end to the shutdown, but decides halfway on the way to walk instead, in front of the press. Haffley, to the objection of a couple of his employees, decides to leave the President in the lobby so long that he walks back out. The scene after the commercial opens with political commentators on a TV lambasting the Speaker for making a colossal tactical error.
It felt more like Villainous Breakdown, with Haffley flipping out because the President of the United States is sitting smugly outside his office with half the Washington press corp, and he has no idea why, since Bartlet's visit wasn't announced. He insists on staying inside until he can figure out what the hell he should do, and by the time he pulls himself together, the President has left. The story changes, and now it's his fault the government has shut down.
Josh Lyman, specifically when he receives a card that gives him instructions to safety in the case of a nuclear attack, a safety that his friends and future lover, then UST partner, would not be invited to. Later it is revealed that as a child he lost his older sister in a fire while he ran to safety.
It's hard not to feel sympathetic for Hoynes when he is frequently disrespected by the staff and the president.
The same can also be said for his successor, Russell.