The path to power takes many twists and turns. If Dan “Big Dan” Rodimer wins the May 1 special election in the Sixth Congressional District south of Dallas, his hero’s journey will have led him through, among other battlegrounds across America, the town of McDonough, Georgia. There, on September 24, 2006, he squared off against one of his most formidable early opponents—and triumphed. His 22 other opponents in the special election should closely study that night, and take heed of the memorable words of “Smooth” Tommy Suede.
“There’s a buzz going around the locker room. Talk about the next ‘big deal’ in Deep South Wrestling,” said Suede, a wiry Philly guy who, like Rodimer, was competing in this development league to win a shot at joining World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, the top promotion company for that sport. “Unfortunately, all the talk is coming from you, Dan Rodimer! Six foot nine, three hundred pounds … you certainly are big. But I don’t see what the ‘big deal’ is! You haven’t won anything, you haven’t beaten anyone.”
Suede then executed a backflip off the second rope, which, Rodimer’s current opponents should note, is an excellent way of emphasizing one’s point. Rodimer looked into the camera and issued his rebuttal. He played smug and pretty, and he was funny. “I’m Dan Rodimer. I’m kind of a ‘big deal.’ Just take a good look,” he said, swaying and pointing to his body, shaved hairless and looking somewhat plastic, like a mannequin at a department store on Mount Olympus. He seemed to be trying to sound like professional wrestling’s ur-hero, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Once Suede was inside the ring, his defiance wilted quickly. Rodimer pinned him by his leg and made him submit, and took the match. (“You’re not Randy,” the audience chanted at Dan.) Clearly, Big Dan was not to be underestimated.
It could no longer be said, after that night, that Dan had not won anything, for he had succeeded and Suede had failed. (Nor can it be said now that he has never allegedly beaten anyone: he has since racked up no fewer than three assault charges. One, stemming from an incident at a Florida Waffle House, resulted in a deferred prosecution agreement and anger management classes; the others were never prosecuted.) But the 2006 match marked the end of Rodimer’s winning streak. Cut loose from the WWE less than a year later, he enrolled in Ave Maria Law School in Naples, Florida, graduating in 2013, and eventually found himself in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he ran for a state Senate seat in 2018. He put $150,000 of his own money into his campaign and lost narrowly to the party-backed candidate in the Republican primary. In 2020 he ran for a swing congressional seat south of Las Vegas and lost again, narrowly, to a Democrat. Then, as one does, he moved to Texas.
You may know about Dan already, thanks to this ad, which quickly became the highest-profile thing Big Deal Dan has ever made. In it, Rodimer adopted a strained accent very unlike the one he grew up with in New Jersey, where he attended an expensive private school, and also quite different from the one he employed in the ads from his Nevada race, when he attempted to look like a boring suburban dad, while his wife explained to the camera that no, she hadn’t been battered all those times she called 911 on him, as the other candidate in the race had claimed. “I have no convictions,” Rodimer said in that ad. (He meant criminal ones.)
In this new ad, his voice is strained and Southern-ish. He says “consatution” in the peculiar way Greg Abbott does. “I moved my family back to Texas because I want to live in a consatutional-friendly state,” he says, which makes it sound like he moved here because Texans are amenable to taking a morning walk. (He briefly lived in Houston in the past, according to his campaign website.) He wears boots, a black cowboy hat, and a thick protective vest, looking like a Brink’s armored truck driver stuck in the Old West. He is sitting on a caged bull. “The three dirtiest jobs in the world?” he asks, as the camera zooms in. “Professional wrestling, politician, and bull riding. Let’s go, boys!”
The video cuts to a bucking bull whose rider’s head is never seen. The bull thrashes, and bucks a stunt double off into the dirt. Ringside, an older feller with an accent as suspect as Rodimer’s turns to the camera. “We call that bull Nancy Pelosi,” he says. “She’s a beast.” Cut to a shot of Rodimer in the dirt. He looks up, pretending he just got thrown. “Now that’s Texas tough, baby!”
Where is this heading? “The communists in D.C. are ruining America,” he says, and Dan’s got a Big Deal to offer you, the voter. “I know how to handle Nancy Pelosi and stop her bullshit,” he says. “And I’ll put a boot right in her socialist platform.” He steps in a comically large pile of bull feces, and a cartoon squish sound accompanies the footfall. “Well,” he says, “looks like I already did!”
Perhaps because it is unusual for a Republican candidate for high office to voluntarily depict himself getting owned by Nancy Pelosi and then stepping in poop, the ad went viral on social media. It was shared initially by viral anti-savant Benny Johnson, the right-wing meme-maker responsible for other cringe-worthy videos, such as the one in which Ted Cruz produces “machine gun bacon.” A lot of people made fun of Rodimer’s ad—”I’ve seen bigger Dans,” deadpanned one Twitter user—sometimes comparing his cowboy cosplay with the clean-cut profile he adopted in last year’s Nevada race. It got write-ups in the Washington Post, the New Republic, and now Texas Monthly. Rodimer was interviewed by CNN, where he sounded a bit bashful. It wasn’t a fake accent, he said; his voice was just fried.
All according to plan, in other words. Susan Wright, the widow of Congressman Ron Wright, who died of COVID-19 in February, is the favorite in a 23-candidate field that will almost certainly go to a second round, with a few other Republicans and Democrats vying for a second spot. Rodimer may be in contention, or he may not. A March 18 poll of the district by one of the campaigns didn’t even include him. In a 23-candidate field, if you’re a longshot candidate, you’ve got to be willing to be loud and, maybe, a little bit stupid. By writing about him I am now fulfilling the prophecy as it was foretold. You’re welcome, Big Dan.
It is tempting to note that the ad came out on the same day the legendary author Larry McMurtry died, and to spin that out into a tetchy thesis contrasting what Texanness meant to McMurtry and his generation and what it means to some of the state’s late converts—including politicians Ted Cruz, born in Calgary, Alberta; Dan Patrick, born in Baltimore, Maryland; Ken Paxton, born in Minot, North Dakota; Chip Roy, born in Bethesda, Maryland; Steve Stockman, born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Allen West, born in Atlanta, Georgia, and a few dozen others. It’s always the converts you have to watch for, whether you’re a Lucchese salesman or a member of the FBI counterterrorism task force.
Folks have of course been coming here and getting drunk on Texas since before the place had a name. That’s part of the state’s story too. “Here in Texas, we are free. We live free,” Rodimer says in his ad, standing in front of a mural that says, of Texas, “the future is ours to create.” Americans come here, as they go to California and Alaska, when the old life gets boring, or the landlord shows up with new locks. They reinvent themselves, or try to. The district Rodimer is attempting to represent, which contains much of Arlington, and all of Waxahachie and Corsicana, is doubtless filled with GTT-ers.
My grandfather, a wise and gentle man who I very much doubt would ever have been caught pretending to ride a bull, was also born in New Jersey—about half an hour from Denville, Rodimer’s hometown. Soon after moving here, grandpa bought a Stetson, which he wore on his first flight back to the East Coast. “We got a real cowboy here,” said the flight attendant, according to family lore. I do not know whether that pleased or embarrassed him, but I don’t think he wore it much after that.
Rodimer’s shtick might be crass, but I would argue that wrestling is a more honest and honorable profession than many of the ways that aspiring Texas politicians make their money. Is his ad any more phony than what established Texas politicians produce on the regular? Take Dan Patrick’s 2018 ad “No California.” Remember, Patrick grew up in working-class east Baltimore. He turned eighteen on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and for a week the city burned. He made his bones in hedonistic, oil-boom Houston, bottomed out, found Jesus, and now lives in a mansion in the city’s suburbs. He has distinct life experiences. But you’ll find very few of them reflected in the image he projects during campaigns.
In his 2018 ad, bookended by B-roll of a Chevy pickup older than the candidate, Patrick wears cowboy boots and a Wrangler work shirt and sits on a porch in a rocking chair, as if awaiting the return of Ethan Edwards. His trusty dog is by his side. “Democrats want to turn Texas into California,” he says, leaning forward, looking grim. “I’m not about to let that happen.” The landscape behind him is lush and green, and the focus is fuzzy: it could be a 1990s Blue Bell ad. This is every bit as much a fantasy as Big Dan’s. It’s just got better production values.