When House of Cards debuted on Netflix in 2013, Americans were shocked and a little thrilled to imagine that its sharp, murderous plotlines might reflect the real Washington—a sinister place where calculating, ruthlessly effective pols achieved their dreams by shoving reporters in front of Metro cars. But the people who actually work in D.C. were quick to log a correction: The day-to-day experience of politics in the nation’s capital is really much more like HBO’s Veep—a constant near-train wreck of bumbling, improvisation and profanity.
Presidents have generally succeeded in keeping that aspect of the job well-hidden, managing to project an image of executive competence no matter how absurd the backstage dynamics.
And then came Donald Trump.
“Every day was like a Veep episode,” said one former senior administration official, recounting his time working for Trump. “You tried to win each day, but like most Veep episodes, it typically ended in disaster.”
Maintaining the normal veneer of smooth competence proved impossible in a White House that struggled from the start to find disciplined aides, and where the boss’ whims and ego made even Veep’s Selina Meyer seem levelheaded. As for keeping it hidden, not even close: Trumpworld’s constant leaks and backstabbing ensured that all of America saw its dirty laundry.
Veep executive producer David Mandel watched the presidency unfold with an uncomfortable sense of recognition. “They’re either taking from our show or doing their own version of it,” he said.
“It’s the reason we left the air,” he said. “It’s fun to write about a crazy president, it’s not so fun to live in a country with a crazy president as the body count rises. Incompetence is very enjoyable on the small screen.”
From the administration’s first press conference to its last ham-handed attempts to reverse its loss at the polls, the Trump show kept delivering nuggets that could easily have slid into a Veep script—and in at least one case literally replicated a Veep plot point.
So what would the story of the Trump years look like if it was reduced to just those nuggets? Here’s POLITICO Magazine’s unscientific, non-exhaustive reconstruction of Trump’s four years in office, told through its most Veep-worthy moments.
Jan. 20, 2017Under rainy skies, Trump delivers a bleak inauguration speech invoking national failures and “American carnage.” Former President George W. Bush, who sits behind him on the dais, later declares: “That was some weird shit.”
Jan. 21, 2017In a news conference, press secretary Sean Spicer insists Trump’s inauguration attracted the biggest crowd of any presidential inauguration in history, “period,” despite aerial photos that clearly showed much lighter attendance than Barack Obama’s 2009 ceremony. Spicer said the crowds appeared smaller only because white ground coverings in the photos “had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing.”
Jan. 2017Trump’s White House staff quickly discover that the president prefers to work with papers over computers, and has a habit of tearing up his papers when he’s finished reading them. Legally obligated to preserve Trump’s memos, files and other correspondence, his staffers spend hours each day taping ripped documents back together again.
Feb. 10, 2017Trump alternately pats and yanks Japanese President Shinzo Abe’s hand during a 19-second handshake in the Oval Office.
Feb. 13, 2017In preparation for his own White House handshake, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau braces his arm so that Trump can’t yank his arm away. It turns out Trudeau had practiced the move with senior aides on the plane to Washington.
Mid-Feb. 2017After a series of damaging revelations about the new administration end up in the press, Sean Spicer tries to curb leaks by calling a staff meeting to check phones for any unauthorized leaks to the media. The meeting is promptly leaked to the media.
March 17, 2017When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House, Trump completely ignores her outstretched hand.
Early 2017Chief of staff Reince Priebus, wary of what the unpredictable president might do or decide, becomes known for literally sprinting through the West Wing to keep Trump from having Oval Office meetings without him.
Early April 2017Omarosa Manigault brings her wedding party to the White House for an impromptu and extended photo shoot. The visitors, with Manigault dressed in bridal attire, wander through the West Wing and Rose Garden, disturbing White House lawyers and senior aides, who ban her and her guests from posting the photos online. By then, Manigault has become known internally for her habit of leaving shoes around the office, which other staffers have to kick aside as a fire hazard.
May 9, 2017While FBI Director James Comey is in Los Angeles talking to LA field office employees, when TVs on the wall in the room start blaring “Comey Resigns.” He chalks it up to a prank by a staffer, telling employees, “Someone put a lot of work into that,” and continues talking until the TVs change to “Comey Fired.” Meanwhile, an email from the White House informing him of his firing gets stuck in his junk folder.
With more than a dozen journalists asking questions about the Comey firing on the White House driveway, Sean Spicer hides in the White House hedges, refusing to emerge until journalists shut off their cameras. (He eventually ends up answering questions for 10 minutes.)
May 25, 2017During a photo op with NATO leaders, Trump shoves Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic out of the way to get to the front of the group.
May 31, 2017At 12:06 a.m., Trump tweets, simply, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Press secretary Sean Spicer refuses to acknowledge “covfefe” is a typo, saying instead, “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”
June 2017While preparing for a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump refers to Nepal and Bhutan as “Nipple” and “Button.”
June 5, 2017George Conway, husband of close Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, replies to a Trump tweet on the travel ban, writing, “These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.” The comments begin his yearslong rant against the president, with George sending out tweets like “It’s almost as though @realDonaldTrump is a moron” as his wife defends the president on cable news. The dramatic fissure fuels Washington gossip for the rest of Trump’s term.
June 12, 2017In the first full Cabinet meeting of his presidency,, Trump keeps the TV cameras on, and his department heads take turns adulating Trump. “I just got back from Mississippi,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tells him. “They love you there.”
July 11-21, 2017VA Secretary David Shulkin takes his wife on a 10-day work trip to Europe. On a tour ostensibly to meet British and Danish officials, the pair spend half their time sightseeing, catching a Wimbledon match and cruising on the Thames. They charge several of their meals and other expenses to U.S. taxpayers, who also pay for their flights.
July 13, 2017In Paris, Trump compliments French first lady Brigitte Macron’s “good physical shape.” “Beautiful!” the president declares. Melania Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are standing feet away.
July 14, 2017Trump and Emmanuel Macron engage in a tug-of-war handshake for 29 seconds, during which Trump also manages to squeeze in a kiss for Brigitte Macron.
July 25, 2017Four days after being hired as White House communications director, financier Anthony Scaramucci tells POLITICO he is going to fire assistant press secretary Michael Short, without first informing Short. Two days later, Scaramucci tells the New Yorker in an R-rated interview about the then-chief strategist,“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c–k.”
July 27, 2017Scaramucci is fired.
Aug. 21, 2017For weeks, Americans waiting for a near-total solar eclipse have been hearing one repeated piece of advice: Don’t stare straight into the sun. At around 2 p.m., when the eclipse is at its peak in D.C., cameras pan to the White House balcony to reveal Trump—with no eye protection, and an aide audibly shouting “don’t look!”—staring straight into the sun.
On a trip to visit the gold in Fort Knox, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, Instagrams a glamor shot of herself descending from a military VIP jet, hashtagging the couture she’s wearing. After a critic scolds Linton for her conspicuous use of tax dollars, Linton responds by bragging about how rich she is. “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR self sacrifice to your country?” she writes in the now-deleted post.
Mid-Sept. 2017EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt enlists his staff to figure out how much a used “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top” mattress from the Trump Hotel would cost him. Pruitt also orders his subordinates to apartment-hunt for him, pick up his dry cleaning and drive him around in search of his favorite moisturizer.
Sept. 20, 2017During a United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump mentions the African nation of Nambia, which does not exist. The White House later clarifies he was talking about Namibia.
Oct. 3, 2017During a visit to San Juan after Hurricane Maria in late 2017—a storm that would kill around 3,000 islanders, and which Trump’s FEMA had largely underestimated—the president appears at a relief center in Puerto Rico and tosses rolls of paper towels to hurricane survivors, as though they’re souvenir T-shirts at a basketball game.
Nov. 15, 2017Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, visit the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and pose holding an uncut sheet of newly printed dollars with Mnuchin’s signature on them, which she grips with long black gloves. The pair are quickly compared to Bond villains — a resemblance Mnuchin publicly embraces.
Dec. 22, 2017The Washington Post reports on Trump’s presidential memento coin. The new version replaces the unofficial national motto “E pluribus unum” with the words “Make America Great Again,” depicts an eagle carrying his Trump’s signature and is, according to one aide, “very gold.”
Jan. 16, 2018After Trump’s first physical as president, White House doctor Ronny Jackson holds a press conference in which he lavishes praise on the president’s “great genes” and says that if the president had had a better diet over the past 20 years, “he might live to be 200 years old.”
Feb. 6, 2018Trump seems to try to grab Melania’s right hand as the couple departs for Ohio but the first lady, wearing a bright yellow coat, appears to reject the overture.
March 13, 2018White House chief of staff John Kelly calls Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to tell him that he’s being fired. All the while, Tillerson is on the toilet.
March 22, 2018Trump calls Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson “Marillyn Lockheed” while announcing new tariffs on China.
Spring 2018Trump starts asking advisers how the U.S. can buy Greenland from Denmark to take advantage of its abundant mineral resources.
June 21, 2018A couple weeks after a national firestorm over the Trump administration’s child separation policy, Melania Trump visits kids who have been separated from their parents at the border wearing a green jacket that says in large letters “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Jan 7, 2019The New York Times reveals Trump sometimes refers to his then-national security adviser John Bolton as “Mike Bolton.”
March 6, 2019Trump refers to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple” in a White House meeting.
April 23, 2019On a visit to Mount Vernon with Emmanuel Macron, Trump is preoccupied with how rich George Washington was and, if he was so rich, why the rooms of the first president’s house weren’t larger. “If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump says of the property. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”
May 27, 2019Scared that the late Senator John McCain’s name will trigger Trump, who feuded with the senator, the White House requests the Navy hide a 7,000-ton warship bearing the McCain name from the president during a trip to Japan. The ship is undergoing repairs and difficult to move, so a tarp is put over its name.
June 12, 2019Trump stops an interview in the Oval Office with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos because chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney coughs. “Please leave the room,” he tells Mulvaney. “You just can’t cough.”
June 28-29, 2019Ivanka Trump accompanies her father to the G-20 summit, where she tries to contribute to a conversation among high-level European leaders. The other participants—especially then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde—avoid eye contact and appear to ignore Ivanka’s comments.
Aug. 17, 2019Trump’s personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout brags that she’s closer to the president than his daughters Ivanka and Tiffany Trump during an off-the-record dinner with reporters. She says the president doesn’t like taking pictures with Tiffany because he thinks she looks overweight, and that the president wouldn’t be able to spot her in a crowd. Westerhout is fired, and Trump later calls Westerhout’s remarks “a little bit hurtful.”
Aug. 19, 2019After the Wall Street Journal breaks the story of Trump’s attempt to buy Greenland, Trump tweets a photoshopped image of a massive Trump hotel plopped onto a small town in Greenland with the caption, “I promise not to do this to Greenland.”
Aug. 20, 2019After Denmark rejects his proposal to purchase Greenland, Trump snubs an invitation by the Danish queen to visit the country.
Sept. 4, 2019As Hurricane Dorian approaches the southeast coast, Trump claims Dorian could hit Alabama, contradicting forecasters. Then, in an Oval Office briefing about the storm, Trump backs up his claim with a National Hurricane Center map that includes Alabama in the storm’s track—except the part encircling Alabama has been clearly added with black sharpie. When reporters ask Trump whether the map has been drawn on, he says, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Sept. 16, 2019Sean Spicer debuts on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
Nov. 11, 2019Spicer is eliminated from ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
Nov. 25-26, 2019In a White House ceremony, Trump refers to Conan, a special operations dog involved in the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as a male. The White House later declares that Conan is female. But then it corrects itself, saying Conan is, indeed, a boy. The back-and-forth leads to speculation that the White House is trying to cover up for Trump’s initial mistake. Some online observers even zoom in on Conan’s crotch to determine the sex. The Pentagon finally officially declares Conan a boy.
April 23, 2020With the coronavirus ascendant in the United States, Trump begins riffing on possible cures for the viral disease—like disinfectant. “Then I see the disinfectant,” he says, “where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”
April, 24, 2020The maker of Lysol warns consumers against ingesting disinfectant to prevent Covid-19.
May 29, 2020As anti-racist protesters gather in front of the White House gates, Trump flees underground.
June 3, 2020The president says he went underground on May 29 to conduct an “inspection” of the White House bunker.
June 9, 2020Attorney General William Barr confirms Secret Service agents took the president underground for his safety.
July 22, 2020Trump insists his cerebral state is top of the line during a TV interview after passing a cognitive test. He demonstrates his mental capacity by repeating the words “Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV” over and over again in that order. The test he cited is usually used to detect signs of dementia.
Aug. 4, 2020While signing the Great American Outdoors Act and celebrating the country’s natural beauty, Trump calls Yosemite National Park “yo-semite.” The gaffe leads to increased sales for the National Museum of American Jewish History, which has been selling a “Yo Semite” shirt since 2011.
Aug 9, 2020Trump tweets a photo of himself next to the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore. When the New York Times reports that he’s spoken with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem about adding himself to the monument, he tweets that it was all “Fake News” but still “sounds like a good idea to me.”
Aug. 17, 2020Disembarking Air Force One together, Trump tries multiple times, for about 6 seconds, to hold Melania’s hand. He is not successful.
Aug. 31, 2020Trump says the U.S. is “rounding the final turn” in the Covid pandemic.
Oct. 1, 2020Trump tests positive for Covid.
Oct. 3, 2020With Trump hospitalized at Walter Reed, Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, gathers journalists outside the hospital to tell them that he, as “a source familiar with the president’s health,” has something to share “off the record with some of y’all.” He tells them the president has been in much worse shape than the president’s doctors just painted publicly. The whole “off the record” exchange is caught on video.
Trump, while hospitalized, releases photos on Twitter of himself signing papers in an office at Walter Reed Medical Center to demonstrate how hard he is working. The papers he is signing are blank.
Oct. 16, 2020Trump mistakes Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a close ally, for Rick Gates, his 2016 deputy campaign manager who pleaded guilty during Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Nov. 4, 2020As Wisconsin counts its final votes, the Trump campaign requests a recount in the state.
Nov. 5, 2020Trump tweets “STOP THE COUNT!”
Nov. 7, 2020, 9:41 a.m.As his team refuses to accept that he has lost the 2020 election, Trump tweets that his lawyers will hold a news conference at the “Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 11 am.”
Nov. 7, 2020, 9:45 a.m.Trump clarifies that the press conference will take place not at the luxury hotel but at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The small landscaping business begins selling mock MAGA merch, including T-shirts emblazoned with “Lawn and Order” and “Make America Rake Again.”
Nov. 7, 2020, 11 a.m.In front of the landscaping business, sandwiched between a porn shop and crematorium, Trump’s legal team makes a desperate effort to contest the election results. One of the witnesses Rudy Giuliani calls to bolster his unfounded allegations of voter fraud in Philadelphia turns out to be a registered sex offender from New Jersey.
Nov. 19, 2020During a news conference to cast doubt on the validity of the election Joe Biden won, Rudy Giuliani and others on Trump’s legal team unleash a parade of conspiracy theories and untruths—ranting about Hugo Chavez, George Soros and the Clinton Foundation. Giuliani’s hair begins seeping a black ooze down his sideburns. Someone can be heard musing with a chuckle on a Trump campaign livestream of the presser: “F——g Rudy’s hair dye dripping down his face.”