Which Real-life President(s) Does Frank Underwood From “House of Cards” Most Resemble?

In terms of how he rose to the oval office, House of Cards (2013)‘s Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) resembles Gerald Ford—but with a greater propensity for cold-blooded murder and a lack of Chevy Chase impersonations to redeem him. Both leaders were thrust into the offices of Vice-President and President through a series of cabinet changes and Presidential resignations, without needing to win a single election. Also like President Gerald Ford, Frank Underwood pardoned his disgraced predecessor in a move that did not win him (or Ford) much esteem from the American public.

But with respect to how Frank Underwood wheels and deals with Congress and tramples on anyone thrown in his way, the producers of House of Cards used former President Lyndon B. Johnson for inspiration. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson has often been described as “Machiavellian” (writer Willimon’s words), “ruthless” and “manipulative.” Sound like someone else? Both LBJ and Underwood are Southern Democrats and former Majority Whips known for being master manipulators of Congress and never suffering dissenters. The show is replete with hints of the similarity, if you look close enough: Frank Underwood proudly displays a famous picture of President Lyndon B. Johnson staring down a frightened Congressman. There is a shot of Underwood reading Robert Caro’s LBJ biography in Season One.

Another connection between the two politicians can be found in their ambitious social programs. As President, Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Great Society, which helped create the Medicare and Medicaid programs, started the War on Poverty, and helped propel voting and civil rights legislation through Congress. In Season Three of House of Cards, as the fictional 46th U.S. President, Frank Underwood fights for his own equally ambitious domestic policy program entitled “America Works,” which aims to provide 100% employment by repappropriating funding from welfare and Social Security. While the outcomes of Underwood’s and Johnson’s programs are almost the opposite (building the welfare system versus demolishing it), in terms of policy and political skill, President Johnson seems to be the closest match for Frank Underwood.

Better luck next time, President Ford.