Since Cody Rhodes announced his departure from AEW after months of a lapsed contract but no specific plans laid out, there has been much speculation by both fans and industry journalists on his next move. The idea of a return to WWE has been most prominent, with some sources claiming he is in talks with them, along with the idea of him joining another promotion or starting his own, but many have also pointed back to his political aspirations and are wondering if that may be his motivation for not remaining with AEW. Could he run for office? In my opinion, maybe, but not quite yet.
First, let’s start with the obvious. Rhodes has stated that he is most interested in running for the U.S. Senate in the state of Georgia. The race for one such seat is occurring in 2022 and he could technically qualify for this or various offices being decided in the general election by March 11th, but it seems highly unlikely he’d mount a successful campaign on short notice. Think Michael Bloomberg but with far less name recognition and not having billionaire levels of self-funding. The deck is quite stacked, including one former pro athlete in Herschel Walker, who is a candidate in the Republican primary and is leading in multiple polls. The seat is currently occupied by Democrat Raphael Warnock who just got elected in the 2021 runoff election, largely due to a coalition led by Black voters and Stacy Abrams. Rhodes running under these circumstances and with his narrative could not work in any way based on these facts and other reasons I will explain here. Overall, the race is considered a toss-up by most experts. In any event, a run for any office right now may be legally impossible. The statements that attorneys were involved in the deliberations that led to his departure leads me to believe that there is a non-zero chance that contractual restrictions on running for elected office, as do often exist in television contracts and can run for months or years after the end of the contract, may have come up.
Rhodes’ party alignment seems as elusive and perplexing as his wrestling character. I could not find any specific indications on his policy positions nor could I find any statements of which party he would run under. Notably, Georgia voter registrations do not include party affiliation, so there would not be a public record source for this information. I had previously planned one of my more typical analysis articles discussing his “not a heel, not a face” approach and being booed for it as being similar to moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin who have become wildly unpopular in the popular discourse. His statement that he is “not a Trump guy” could compromise a run as a Republican, as candidates have to at least show tacit acceptance for Trump as a de facto party leader. Even “anti-Trump Republicans” have to be not quite “anti-Trump“ in order to win. Rhodes has made anti-racism his primary issue, emphasizing his interracial marriage to Brandi, and acted in a more traditional, less populist manner which appears to align with Joe Biden’s campaign. Further, I felt Brandi appeared to strike a Michelle Obama-like tone in some of her recent promos. He has notably received praise from Rep. Alexandria Ocasió-Cortez for evolving his stance on racial issues from the “colorblind” model that is often seen with moderates and conservatives. Rhodes does not seem to touch on issues of class and labor as much, which are issues that core progressives have found absent in the current state of the party and the lack of engagement with which are perhaps driving President Biden’s approval rating down. Within wrestling, this is in contrast with our progressive populist cowboy Adam Page, who is accordingly solidly in babyface territory.
Running as a Republican
Candidates who have seen recent wins as Republicans, like Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, have had to rely at least in some part on cultural issues appealing to the Trump base like false allegations of critical race theory being taught in school, which would not align with Rhodes’ approach. Back when I was working for conservatives doing minority outreach, Rhodes would have been praised as part of the solution to the issues raised in the post-mortem analysis of the 2012 election that spurred the Republican Party to try to solve racial issues. However, those leaders who held the position of reforming from within have largely left the party after Trump’s election and joined groups like the Lincoln Project that support Democrats for the sake of protecting democracy while still holding somewhat conservative views or chose an entirely different political direction. Those who even so much as investigate the wrongdoings on January 6th, such as Liz Cheney, are censured by the party. There has been mild pushback against Trump by leaders like Mitch McConnell, but we are not at a point where anti-Trump candidates can succeed. There is more of a breakdown on this tenuous situation on this episode of the Quorum Call podcast from the National Journal. Unless the party sees major changes and we see cultural shifts in the electorate, I see this as being a non-option for Rhodes.
Running as a Democrat
Hence, Rhodes’ best bet in today’s political climate would be to run as a Democrat, which leads us back to the heel-face-Manchin alignment axis he represents in kayfabe. I am going to take for now, as an assumption of this analysis, what fans have previously speculated as his positions, which would be more moderate, perhaps socially liberal and somewhat fiscally conservative. Given that traditionally Republican states flipped to Democrats in the 2020 election with Joe Biden as their candidate and two of which (West Virginia and Arizona) elected moderate senators with pseudo-Republican views, recent election history supports a moderate Democrat having some success. However, with the negative press on the failures to achieve strong progressive policy change due to Manchin and Sinema, the party’s base and perhaps the electorate at large has little appetite for this type of candidate. I have stated before and still believe that Democrats need to show policy results or at least a strong effort for voters, rather than just saying what they are against (Trump and racism) to keep showing up. Georgia’s two Democratic senators are not Manchin/Sinema types, and especially if minority voter turnout stays high in spite of the voter restriction laws the state has implemented, a candidate that is close to the right may not be necessary or optimal. Of course, the only way he gets a chance at doing this soon is if Warnock loses. Again, I have no idea what Rhodes’ positions are and I am making a lot of assumptions here.
In terms of his character, I feel that having someone like Rhodes in office regardless of side would likely be beneficial to the political discourse as he seems more reasonable than many in office now. As someone works around politics, I feel a lot of professionals would be happy having him as a collaborator. The development of AEW with his help has certainly shown his leadership skills and business acumen. An athlete of his caliber and with his legacy, and with community outreach experience, could be a powerful ambassador for various causes. Upper class supporters of diversity would likely find much common ground with Rhodes and the story of his relationship with Brandi could greatly help court the highly desired suburban female middle and upper class voters. This could happen even with a more left-leaning policy platform, similar to Rep. Katie Porter’s success in my home county of Orange County, CA with a district composed of many of those voters. He may wind up choosing to gain experience in a lower office before going for a high-profile role like the Senate. However, we won’t know anything for sure until the music starts playing in the campaign ad: “Adrenaline in my soul, go and vote for Cody Rhodes!”
Greyson Peltier is the host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in social impact, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. He currently holds progressive views but has been on both sides of the political aisle and has worked for multiple organizations, including serving as a board member of Tea Party Youth. Here, he writes analyses of social movements and subcultures through the lens of kayfabe. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.