A few years ago, Molly Jong-Fast wrote in The Daily Beast about the emergence of “failson” culture in the Trump era, and indeed, an abundance of failsons came to light under former President Donald Trump.
Wiktionary defines a failson as “an incompetent, unsuccessful middle-class or upper-class man who is protected from economic duress by his family’s wealth or influence.”
And Donald Trump Jr. is perhaps the most noteworthy example, Jong-Fast wrote. But he is not alone. Others who fall into this category include his brother, Eric Trump; Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner; and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has become known as one of Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters.
Jong-Fast wrote in 2019 that the first time Trump Jr. stepped away from the failson category was with the release of his book, Triggered, which spent two weeks at the top of The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. It was his first very own accomplishment.
But even here, she wrote, Trump Jr. ultimately failed again.
Those pesky Federal Election Commission disclosers show that the Republican National Committee spent $94,000 on copies of Junior’s literary debut. The New York Times’ Nick Confessore notes that “new FEC disclosures show a single large RNC payment of $94,800 to Books-a-Million in October, a few days before Triggered was released. An RNC spokesman confirmed that the expenditure was connected to their promotion of Don Trump Jr.’s book.”
So this means that junior is actually still a failson. In fact, one might say there is no greater expression of failson-ness than needing Daddy’s party’s political arm to bulk-buy your book.
Moving on, Jong-Fast noted that “Jared Kushner is the failson in chief, arguably worse than Junior.”
“After crushing a newspaper and overpaying for the aptly named 666 Fifth Avenue, the failson-in-law decided to take a crack at governmenting.”
Then there is Eric Trump:
Not as notorious as his dimwitted siblings, Eric is the one of the Trump litter who seems the most interested in running the family’s mediocre hotel business. Though Eric always enjoys doing a segment on Fox News, where he dishes out really hot takes like his assessment that “Democrats weren’t even people.” Eric is also extremely bad at Twitter. On Thanksgiving Day, he tweeted a picture of a red hat emblazoned with the acronym LOPA for “Leave Our President Alone,” which caused the internet to erupt in mockery of the young Hapsburg.
After listing a few more failsons connected to the Trump administration, Jong-Fast concluded:
The failson Trump administration is the best advertisement for raising sky-high estate taxes and crushing the culture of failsons for one and all. After all, why should failsons be a protected species like the California condor or the giant sea bass? Let them go the way of the rotary phone and the telegram, let them fade into the footnotes of history, a capitalist punchline.
Likewise, Stephanie Mencimer documented Gaetz’s failson status in a 2019 piece for Mother Jones, aptly titled: “How Matt Gaetz Used Daddy’s Money to Become Trump’s Favorite Congressman.”
Gaetz is often described as Trump’s protégé, someone who’s become a Fox News staple not just by sucking up to the president but by trying to out-Trump Trump with insults hurled at Democrats and anyone else with the temerity to challenge the president. But Gaetz hasn’t simply been copying the president; he was cultivating a Trumplike persona long before anyone considered the possibility of a President Trump. And the two men share more than just a love of playground taunts. Gaetz’s political ascent was also fueled by a rich father who paved his way, and a series of unorthodox financial maneuvers.
If anyone is responsible for Gaetz’s rise to political fame, it’s his dad, whose deep pockets and even deeper connections in Florida politics are one reason Matt is known in his district as Baby Gaetz. “Matt would be an assistant manager at Walmart if it weren’t for his father,” says Steven Specht, a Democrat who ran against Gaetz for Congress in 2016.
Gaetz is a third-generation politician. His grandfather, Jerry Gaetz, was the mayor of a small town in North Dakota and a state legislator who died in 1964 at the state GOP convention after giving a speech endorsing Barry Goldwater for president. Matt’s father, Don Gaetz, has been a prominent figure in Panhandle politics since first winning election to the Okaloosa County school board in 1994.
In the late 1970s, Matt Gaetz’s father “co-founded a nonprofit hospice company that successfully lobbied Congress to allow Medicare and Medicaid to cover its services,” Mencimer wrote. “Once the public money started flowing, the nonprofit became a for-profit corporation, Vitas, that grew into the country’s largest hospice care provider.”
In 2004, Don Gaetz and his partners cashed in, selling the hospice company to the parent company of the plumbing behemoth Roto-Rooter for $400 million. When he ran for state Senate two years later, Don had a net worth of $25 million.
In 2013, the Justice Department sued Vitas, alleging that between 2002 and 2013, the company had defrauded Medicare by filing false claims for services never provided or for patients who weren’t terminally ill. The company settled the case in 2017 for more than $75 million, at the time the largest settlement ever recovered from a hospice company. (Don wasn’t named in the case and has denied any wrongdoing.)
Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz graduated from William & Mary Law School in 2007 and then “went to work for a politically connected firm in Fort Walton Beach, near Niceville,” and “toiled away on pedestrian legal matters befitting a junior associate in a region whose biggest city, Pensacola, is home to barely 50,000 people.”
However, when a seat opened up in Florida’s state House in 2010 and the younger Gaetz opted to run, he had a net worth of more than $1 million and gave $100,000 to his campaign. His legal work that year earned him a mere $29,000, Mencimer wrote.
By the time he was running for Congress in 2016, Gaetz’s net worth had dropped to $388,000, most of which was tied up in properties he owned.
Yet less than three weeks after Miller announced his retirement, Gaetz dumped $100,000 into his own campaign. Four months later, he gave another $100,000. His total contribution was more than half his net worth and exceeded any of his opponents’ total fundraising. Where did he come up with all that money? The obvious suspect was his dad. It would have been illegal for Don Gaetz to lend six figures to the campaign, but he appears to have found another way to funnel money to his son’s race.
Public records and financial disclosure forms show that in the days following Miller’s retirement announcement, Matt Gaetz sold a house he owned for just under $100,000. Three months later, he sold several vacant lots he’d bought years earlier. All of Gaetz’s real estate was purchased by the same buyer: a company called Treveron, which, it turns out, is owned by his dad.
Matt Gaetz was sworn in as a U.S. House representative in 2017.
Image: (from left) Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Matt Gaetz. (Screengrabs / Fox News; The Hill; The Hill / YouTube)