‘House of Cards’ Fact Check: Could the Underwoods Really Pull Off Their Season 4 Schemes?

Politics professor John J. Pitney, Jr. tells TheWrap if any of the conniving duo’s latest antics would fly in the real world

(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you have not watched the new season of Netflix’s “House of Cards.”)

“House of Cards” has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with the reality of politics, presenting a much darker and more cynical take on the power grabs in Washington, D.C.

Season 1, which seemed pretty dramatic in and of itself, probably skewed closest to reality.

“After that, it just wandered off into fantasy,” Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at California’s Claremont McKenna College, told TheWrap.

By Season 4, “House of Cards” may be further than ever away from the realities of American politics, the contrast particularly stark during a presidential election year in 2016.

Below, Pitney walks us through on how realistic several “House of Cards” Season 4 storylines would be in the real world.

1. Could Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) really run for President and Vice President as a married couple?
“It’s theoretically possible, but they would have to live in separate states,” said Pitney. “Under the Constitution, electorates of the same state can’t vote for the president and the vice president from the same state.”

Pitney cited the 2000 election, when George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney to be his running mate.

“There was a problem: Cheney was living in Texas at the time,” he said. “If they were both to run, one of them would have to forfeit the electoral votes of Texas. Which means Al Gore would have become President and Joe Lieberman would have become Vice President.”

Cheney changed his voting residence to his Wyoming, which he had served as a U.S. Representative in the 1980s.

While it was never explicitly stated on the show, it appears that Claire Underwood could have used her mother’s home in Texas as her voting residence.

Of course, the Underwoods have done much more illegal things in the past in Claire’s quest for political power of her own. Frank never would have been allowed to name her UN Ambassador in Season 3, according to Pitney.

“After Robert F. Kennedy served as Attorney General, Congress forbade presidents from giving such jobs to family members,” he said.

2. Can an open convention nominate a vice presidential candidate not chosen by the president?
This one has historical precedence. “In 1956, Adlai Stevenson was the certain Democratic nominee for president,” Pitney shared. “In order to create some excitement at the convention, he threw the Vice Presidential nomination open. He said, you pick.”

Estes Kefauver ended up winning, but this theoretical possibility and historical fun fact could see real-life ramifications in 2016.

3. Can an open convention really nominate a presidential candidate who was not voted in during primaries and caucuses, like Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) almost was?
This is a theoretical possibility that could play out in real life, even though it didn’t on the show.

“Right now, the Republican convention could deadlock,” Pitney said, referencing the contentious battle for the GOP nomination that could result if frontrunner Donald Trump fails to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot. “Highly unlikely, given the expectations of the primary and caucus system.”

The system of primaries and caucuses was instituted after the 1968 Democratic National Convention nominated Hubert Humphrey, who had not won a single vote under his own name prior to the convention.

“Theoretically, there’s no reason a deadlocked convention could not turn to a different candidate,”  Pitney said, noting that the delegates could draft a non-candidate like Mitt Romney or John McCain. “It’s extremely unlikely and probably politically unpopular, but at least on paper, a possibility.”

4. Could Claire really remove a terrorist leader from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay to persuade his followers to stop their terrorist plans?
This one seems straight up fictional. “A first lady couldn’t do that,” Pitney said. “A President could probably do that by direct order, but a first lady could not.”

It’s possible, of course, Frank was the one who ordered the extraction, so there’s gray area here.

5. Would a first lady be left alone to negotiate with Russian President Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) during a diplomatic mission?
No brainer: definitely fiction. “How many ways would that be wrong?!” Pitney Exclaimed. “No. 1, first ladies don’t negotiate international agreements. Even powerful ones like Hillary Clinton didn’t do that. No. 2, no foreign leader would negotiate in a foreign language without an interpreter present. It’s clear in Season 3 that Petrov speaks English, but any foreign leader, even if he understands the other language, will have an interpreter so that he or she will have time to think of responses.”

“House of Cards” Season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix. Season 5 will premiere in 2017.

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