Not Running for Majority Leader Is Exactly What Frank Underwood Would Do

How America’s favorite antihero would navigate the Machiavellian plotting around House leadership roles.

Actor Kevin Spacey as Rep. Frank Underwood in the show House of Cards.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
June 12, 2014, 12:01 p.m.

In the days after Eric Can­tor’s de­feat stunned Wash­ing­ton, talk on the Hill has pre­dict­ably turned not so much to which pro­fess­or at Ran­dolph-Ma­con Col­lege will re­place him in the House as to who will fill his lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party.

Top pro­spects already are back­ing away. Jeb Hensarling has an­nounced that he will in­stead be fo­cus­ing on his fam­ily, his dis­trict, and chair­ing the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, while the de­cidedly am­bi­tious Paul Ry­an, an­oth­er fa­vor­ite for the post, has said he’s just not in­ter­ested in the po­s­i­tion. Funny, that’s ex­actly what the ruth­less prag­mat­ist of House of Cards, Frank Un­der­wood, would say.

People close to Ry­an have noted his de­sire to serve as chair­man of the tax-writ­ing Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. But per­haps more tellingly, he ran as vice pres­id­ent on the Re­pub­lic­an tick­et in 2012, and were he to ap­pear on the tick­et again in 2016, be­ing the party’s des­ig­nated ma­jor­ity lead­er might not be the most stra­tegic po­s­i­tion to be in.

House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy has the over­whelm­ing sup­port of the party (though Pete Ses­sions is still in the run­ning), and were Ry­an to chal­lenge him for the po­s­i­tion, he’d risk los­ing the lead­er­ship race and ali­en­at­ing mem­bers whose good will could prove pre­cious to him down the road. What’s more, as Un­der­wood would surely note, ma­jor­ity lead­ers make a lot of en­emies do­ing all that horse trad­ing and deal cut­ting, par­tic­u­larly at a time when the GOP is go­ing through so many trans­form­a­tions and re­in­ven­tions.

The irony is that when act­or Kev­in Spacey, who plays Un­der­wood as House ma­jor­ity whip and later as pres­id­ent, was study­ing up for the role, he shad­owed Mc­Carthy on the Hill. Mc­Carthy was “very gen­er­ous” with him, Spacey later told ABC’s George Stephan­o­poulos, adding, “I don’t envy him the po­s­i­tion.”

Mc­Carthy may not have much in com­mon with Un­der­wood’s mer­ci­less per­son­al­ity. In­deed, Mc­Carthy is known for his con­geni­al­ity, and, as he once noted to Busi­ness In­sider, he and his col­leagues “don’t murder an­im­als or mem­bers or any­thing like that.” But it’s also true that if he’s chosen as lead­er, his rise on Cap­it­ol Hill would be un­pre­ced­en­ted. Sound fa­mil­i­ar?

Slate’s Dave Wei­gel re­cently re­marked that he’s grown to hate people say­ing, “It’s just like House of Cards!” whenev­er any­thing de­vi­ous hap­pens. It’s just like polit­ics! And some­times I agree: Art im­it­ates life. But also, as Oscar Wilde has ar­gued, life im­it­ates art far more.

What We're Following See More »
WHO PLAYED THE DONALD?
Longtime Clinton Aide Played Trump in Mock Debates
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

After keeping the information private for most of the lead-up to the debate on Monday, it has been revealed that longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines has been playing the role of Donald Trump in her debate prep. Reines knows Clinton better than most, able to identify both her strengths and weaknesses, and his selection for a sparring partner shows that Clinton is preparing for the brash and confrontational Donald Trump many have come to expect.

Source:
WEEKEND POLLING ROUNDUP
New Polls Still Show Razor-Thin Margins
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
  • A national Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Clinton leading Trump by just two points among likely voters, 46% to 44%.
  • A national Bloomberg poll out Monday morning by Selzer & Co. has Clinton and Trump tied at 46% in a two-way race, and Trump ahead 43% to 41% in a four-way race.
  • A CNN/ORC poll in Colorado shows likely voters’ support for Trump at 42%, 41% for Clinton, and a CNN/ORC poll in Pennsylvania has Clinton at 45% and Trump at 44%.
  • A Portland Press Herald/UNH survey in Maine has Clinton leading Trump in ME-01 and Trump ahead in ME-02.
THE QUESTION
How Many Times Has the Trump Campaign Emailed Ted Cruz’s Supporters?
2 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 30 times, in the case of some donors. Long before Cruz endorsed Trump—and before he even snubbed the nominee at the Republican National Convention—"the senator quietly began renting his vast donor email file to his former rival, pocketing at least tens of thousands of dollars, and more likely hundreds of thousands, that can be used to bankroll the Texan’s own political future."

Source:
STAKES ARE HIGH
Debate Could Sway One-Third of Voters
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."

Source:
YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS ANYMORE
Gennifer Flowers May Not Appear After All
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."

Source:
×