How Realistic is House of Cards, Really?

Netflix released the third season of the popular show last Friday. Longtime political consultant Matthew Dowd joins Texas Standard to discuss what political life is really like in Washington.

By Rhonda Fanning March 4, 2015 8:03 am,

Many Texans may have used the recent chilly weather to hunker down and binge watch the latest episodes of House of Cards. Don’t worry, for those of you that haven’t had a chance to watch, we’ll keep post spoiler-free.

Instead of plot lines, we wanted to ask an insider about the show’s representation of Washington politics.

Texas Standard speaks with Matthew Dowd, a long time political consultant who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney ’04 presidential campaign. More recently he’s a political contributor for ABC and appears on This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Dowd has a cameo this season along with Stephanopoulos. The two play themselves commenting on a debate before the Iowa Caucus.

Even though real-life Washington figures appear on the show, Dowd says there is only so much you can take as the reality on the Hill. “There’s elements of truth to any art that exists, even if it’s completely ‘Picasso-ized’ art, that it doesn’t even look like what it’s supposed to. There is some element of truth to it,” he says.

“Are there Machiavellian people in Washington? Do they do things you wish they wouldn’t? Yes. But is it as much or ill-intent as you see so much on that show…? No.”

Dowd says while Frank Underwood’s character, played by Kevin Spacey, is highly dramatized he sees some good in him. But, as is the danger of the Washington elite, he’s overcome by the need for power. “Anyone that gets elected senator or governor, automatically the lightbulb goes off in their head, they start thinking ‘I could be president,'” Dowd says.

He thinks that to have hit show however, the creators of House of Cards needs to play off of people’s worst perceptions of Washington.

“I think it has a great deleterious effect. I think it makes people think their assumptions about Washington are right because their watching a TV show,” Dowd says. “When in reality, as I said earlier, most people’s intentions are very good.”

UPDATE: Turns out Frank Underwood will be producing something for CNN. Well, not exactly the Frank Underwood, but the man who plays him. The network announced Monday that Spacey will be producing and narrating a six-part miniseries called “Race for the White House.” The network plans to air it in 2016.