The third season of House of Cards will drop on Netflix tomorrow, which means most people will be spending the weekend finding out how a confirmed serial killer would lead the most powerful country in the world. And while most people enjoy watching the show’s depiction of the inside Washington political scene, it’s not exactly realistic. So how would real political consultants handle the crises of that arise in the show?
We spoke to Dr. Frank Luntz, CEO of the LuntzGlobal Consulting firm and former Advisor to the Stephen Colbert Super PAC, how he would handle the situations in House of Cards and compared his responses to how Frank Underwood dealt with them.
Scenario 1: A prospective Cabinet member’s controversial op-ed in a student newspaper is discovered from 20 years earlier. What should they do?
Luntz: This is typical. The key to this and every other challenge is to talk about “the mistakes of youth.” How much I’ve learned since my college days and how being provocative back then is not the attitude or position I take today. That situation has happened to dozens of presidential candidates and none of them were hurt unless they were found to have plagiarized in college. The lesson seems to be if you’re going to be insane, at least be authentic.
House of Cards: If the senator denies writing the editorial, send a congressman you’re blackmailing to the home of a conspiracy junkie who worked on the newspaper to manipulate him into telling the world the senator wrote the editorial alone. Then the senator can’t be Secretary of State anymore and your plan has succeeded.
Scenario 2: A congressman proposes a bill that generates a lot of controversy and leads to a major union going on strike. What should they do?
Luntz: If I’m a Democrat, I would sit down with union leaders in a restaurant no one goes in and explain to them why I need to do it and I will support a different piece of legislation they support. Basically I will give a little to get a little. What I do in public is different than what I do in private. I may speak one way in public but I will make damn sure in private that the leadership knows where I truly stand.
House of Cards: Hire someone to throw a brick through your window and manipulate the evidence to look like a union leader did it. Then confront the leader with your plan in a private meeting, and make sure they have an anger problem. That way they’ll punch you in the face and they’ll drop the strike after you threaten to charge them with assault if they don’t. Basically, use blackmail.
Scenario 3: A historic landmark in a politician’s hometown causes a teenage girl to die in a fatal car crash while she texted about it’s unusual appearance. How should they respond?
Luntz: By expressing the deepest sorrow and regret for the loss of life and that we all should learn from this tragedy. Nothing is that important for someone to pickup a phone or other electronic device no matter what the message is and that our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends today.
House of Cards: Travel to your hometown to deal with the situation. Then deliver an impassioned sermon at the funeral of the teen capped off by screaming, “I hate God!” If the bible thumpers don’t murder you right there at the pulpit, the parents will be won over by your bravery and strong feelings towards their child’s death and drop their lawsuit.
Scenario 4: What would you advise someone to do if a politician they’re working with gives an interview drunk and makes a fool of themselves?
Luntz: First thing I would do is fire the staffer near the politician. Second thing I would do is burn down that staffer’s home because the situation shouldn’t have happened. Then I make sure it never happens. Afterwards I tell the press that the interview was out of context and clarify.
House of Cards: Get the politician drunk and drive him home. When he passes out, park his car in the garage, put him in the driver’s seat and hook up a hose the exhaust pipe and kill the politician from carbon monoxide poisoning. Murder’s much easier than arranging a press conference.
Scenario 5 What should a politician do if a journalist is deeply involved in investigating their past actions that they would rather not come to light?
Luntz: This happens to high-level politicians. It’s the cost of doing business. Politics is about relationships; those relationships often run regrettably deep. There are going to be people in the media that just don’t like you – that are out to destroy you. Whether just or not, it sells papers and wins Pulitzers. Accept it. Your responsibility is to know what’s coming before it comes; to have an effective answer to every charge and every criticism.
House of Cards: Do this:
Scenario 6: What would you do if a billionaire seems to be exerting too much control over a major politician?
Luntz: That’s easy. You demonize the billionaire, which is exactly what has happened to the Koch Brothers. The difference is you do it effectively – with facts. The attacks on the Koch’s haven’t sit well with some people because they are so often baseless. You need to prove that the money is truly corrupting the political process – that’s when ears tend to become receptive.
House of Cards: Do everything in your power to make the billionaire’s life a mess. Talk to his casino friends and blackmail them into turning against him. Talk to his Chinese friends and blackmail them into turn against him. Again, blackmail and murder are the two go-tos for most situations.
Scenario 7: What should a politician do if the restaurant they frequent is owned by a former criminal?
Luntz: Often, the best answer is a short answer. I would talk about how great the food is and that’s it. I would celebrate my favorite dish and move on. I just wouldn’t answer. When it comes to food, politics doesn’t matter.
House of Cards: Stop going to the restaurant you’ve gone to for delicious ribs almost everyday for several years, distance yourself from him in the press and alienate the only friend you have in the world. Then go to that man’s house and explain the situation so he can tell you he never liked you, showing you that you never actually were friends and exposing the lonely world you’ve built for yourself. Then resist the urge to question whether all the horrible things you’ve been doing were actually worth and begin working on a new scheme to ruin someone’s reputation for the third time that week.
Scenario 8: What should a politician do if a scandalous photo of their wife taken by an ex-boyfriend was leaked to the press?
Luntz: Outrage, outrage, outrage. I would literally lose it at a press conference and use it to evoke sympathy for the family. But what matters most isn’t the political reaction. It’s dealing with the family. It’s about dealing with her parents and your children. That comes first.
House of Cards: Convince your wife to talk to the ex-boyfriend, even though she clearly has feelings for him. Have her get the ex to lie and say the photos are fake, thus ruining his reputation in the eyes of the public and also destroying any possible relationship between the two of them. She’ll follow your cold-heartedness because she’s secretly as evil as you. She once tried to force one of her employees to get an abortion. She’ll get over it.
Scenario 9: What should a politician do if they’re facing an indictment for money laundering?
Luntz: Transparency trumps all. You announce that you will waive the statute of limitations, agree to take a lie detector test, and open up your bank account and financial life to public scrutiny. Can it be embarrassing and lead to other issues? Yes. But sometimes you have to give up your privacy to save your career.
House of Cards: Offer up your resignation to the President and prepare to fall on your sword.
PSYCHE! You know the President won’t accept your resignation! He’s a wimp! You offer your resignation to manipulate him into joining your team again. Then you slowly begin planting the idea that he should actually resign, which he will, thus diverting the suspicion off of you and proving, once again, that Evil will always conquer Good in Washington.
Scenario 10: A congressman is passed over for a Cabinet position they thought they were getting. What should they do?
Luntz: The classic adage applies: don’t get angry, get ahead. It happens in every Administration. You have to be patient. Patience is powerful. If you blow up bridges because you feel wronged or betrayed, it’s impossible to rebuild them. The most successful politicians wait and then strike when the iron’s hot.
Or, cash-in with an unseemly tell-all whilst spinning insider yarns on the insufferable speaker circuit.
House of Cards: Create a complex series of events that will require the Vice-President of the United States to take a pay cut and run for Governor of Pennsylvania, somehow become his replacement, get the President who passed you over impeached in a money laundering scheme and then force him to resign because of his prescription to anti-anxiety drugs, thus putting yourself in the Oval Office.
Vengeance is the best virtue in politics.
Joseph Misulonas is an editorial assistant for Playboy.com. He finally found a way to put his political science degree to work. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.