A former Obama aide who advised Succession writers on their chaotic presidential election outcome hopes 'that ultimately, life does not imitate art'

An image from HBO's Succession and former Obama aide Eric Schultz
Former Obama aide Eric Schultz consulted with HBO's Succession on crafting the chaotic outcome to their fictional presidential election.Macall Polay/HBO; Carolyn Kaster/AP
  • Former Obama aide Eric Schultz was one of the political consultants for HBO's Succession.

  • Schultz wrote about how he helped craft the show's fictional presidential election.

  • The election featured a chaotic event that overshadowed the outcome, something Schultz hopes doesn't really happen.

Editor's note: This post contains spoilers for the final season of HBO's "Succession." 

A former Obama White House aide who worked with writers on crafting the chaotic end to the show's fictional presidential election expressed hope that the brief chapter in the Roys' saga doesn't become real life.

"[S]hows that crack the D.C. code ground their broader stories in authenticity by fixating on the nitty-gritty," former Deputy White House press secretary Eric Shultz wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. "With Succession, I can only hope we didn't predict the future and that, ultimately, life does not imitate art."

Schultz consulted on the script for "America Decides," the third-to-last episode in the award-winning HBO drama's fourth and final season. In the episode, Jeryd Mencken, a fictional Republican congressman, is projected as the winner of the presidential election after Kendall and Roman Roy press ATN, the news channel at the center of their fictional empire, to predict his victory. The two Roys' pressure comes as the actual outcome of the election remains unclear following a fire that destroyed thousands of ballots in Democratic-heavy Milwaukee.

Jesse Armstrong, the show's creator, said he was inspired by the real life nail-bitter outcomes in 1960, 2000, and 2016.

"These unbelievably close election moments kind of keep on coming in the US, so it felt legitimate to have another one," Armstrong told HBO during a behind-the-scenes interview. 

Back in the real world, Schultz said that he argued for a less direct way to swing than an election than an actual fire that destroys ballots.

"I argued that true sabotage would be more surreptitious; those trying to steal elections are doing so more systematically, inside courtrooms or by manipulating ballot access," Schultz wrote. "But ballot access rules don't exactly jump off the screen, so the arson won out."

Darwin Perry and Roman Roy in HBO's Succession
Darwin Perry, played by Adam Godley, and Roman Roy, played by Kieran Culkin, face off during a scene in season 4's "America Decides."Macall Polay/HBO

The show doesn't entirely say whether the fire is arson or not. Roman Roy, played by Kieran Culkin, teases his sister Shiv by saying "False Flag" repeatedly when she raises the possibility of a pro-Mencken plot. Mencken's potential status as the leader of the free world is also unresolved.

As we all learned far too well, news organizations don't determine elections. Officials certify the results before the Electoral College votes and their votes are then counted during a joint session of Congress on January 6. Still,  Politico's Zach Montellaro talked to election officials and legal experts who conceded that a real-life moment like what was depicted in Succession would turn into a court battle for the ages.

Schultz pointed out that as Succession shot the episode last December, Congress finally moved forward on changing the 1887 law known as The Electoral Count Act. The biggest headlines were devoted to how the law removed any ambiguity that President Donald Trump and his allies had falsely claimed gave them legal cover to argue that Vice President Mike Pence could unilaterally dismiss a state's electoral college vote, potentially altering the outcome of the election.

There were many other changes though. The House-verison of the bill went so far as to a mention a "historically significant destructive fire."

"So much for my political expertise," Schultz wrote of how he dismissed concerns about arson in actual political circles.

The actual law does not mention fires specifically, rather it uses the more lawyerly description of " force majeure events that are extraordinary and catastrophic."

Perhaps, life isn't that far from art after all.

Read the original article on Business Insider