Bootstrap BS: This ‘self-made’ GOP Senate candidate got big bucks from family

There’s really no such thing as a self-made man. It’s a pernicious myth that conservatives use to shame anyone who’s not financially successful. Elon Musk isn’t self-made. The Koch Brothers certainly weren’t, either. And while Donald Trump appears to apply his makeup each morning with a caulk gun and mortar trowel, he’s not self-made either—not even close.

But while conservatives often decry so-called “nanny states” and the cradle-to-grave security the social safety net provides to our most vulnerable citizens, they’re certainly not averse to taking money from their parents. Which would be fine if they weren’t so quick to shame those struggling, working-poor Americans without access to trust funds.

The latest jughead individualist to spout serial inanities about his bootstrap background is the GOP’s top Senate hopeful to unseat Montana Sen. Jon Tester. Tim Sheehy built his company all by himself—with a barely-worth-mentioning assist from his parents and his brother, who happens to be a New York financier. 

RELATED STORY: Sen. Jon Tester, to the relief of Democrats, will seek re-election in Montana

The Daily Beast took a deep dive into Sheehy’s background. It turns out that Sheehy’s boasts about rising above the throngs of goldbrickers who are simply too lazy to start aerospace companies with the help of their well-heeled relatives are actually kind of empty.

Sheehy’s sterling resume and colorful backstory has made him such a highly prized recruit for Senate Republicans. A Navy SEAL who served in combat before starting his business, the 38-year-old could pose a serious threat to Sen. Jon Tester, and potentially help flip control of the Senate back to the GOP.

But fresh information has emerged that undercuts Sheehy’s story of self-made scrappiness. And the details come from an unlikely source: Sheehy himself.

In a forthcoming memoir to be released this month, titled Mudslingers: A True Story of American Firefighting, Sheehy divulges the hard work and determination that went into building Bridger Aerospace. But he also details the extensive financial support from his family that made its success possible.

Yeah, that’s pretty typical, actually. A dude who grew up in a well-to-do family surrounded by other well-to-do families is bound to see his circumstances as ordinary, even if they’d be considered extraordinary to anyone without a similar birthright. After all, who among us can recall with any precision how many emerald mines our dads owned? 

That said, Sheehy has been pretty insistent that his upward trajectory was always more parabolic than parasitic.

“When I saw a business opportunity, I took my entire life savings—I didn’t get a government loan, didn’t get a government handout—I started a business in my barn and built it from scratch,” he said in August.

And during a November podcast he boasted, “We had a nice little six-figure nest egg, and we just booted off our company with that. We bought our land, and we lived in a tent, literally, for months, and we built the barn that we lived in for four and a half years. And it was like bootstrap central.”

Bullshit central, more like.

Building a business from scratch without a government loan is certainly laudable! But it’s shameful to imply that anyone who does turn to the government to borrow startup funds—because they don’t have wealthy, connected friends and family—is automatically suspect. And let’s be clear: Sheehy’s history demonstrates that he’s hardly allergic to “handouts”—so long as they come from family members.

According to The Daily Beast, Sheehy started his business in part with $300,000 in seed capital he and his wife had saved up, but he also asked his parents for the $100,000 they’d originally set aside for his college education—money he hadn’t needed earlier because his tuition at the government-funded U.S. Naval Academy was free.

“In addition to the $100,000 loan they offered me plenty of free advice, which as anyone knows in family business, can go both ways,” Sheehy wrote in “Mudslingers,” a copy of which was previewed by The Daily Beast. “But nothing would have moved forward without them.”

But that’s not all! Sheehy also solicited help from his brother, the New York financier, when he needed capital to purchase his first two airplanes. 

“I didn’t have half a million dollars,” Sheehy wrote. “We were doing everything on our own. And I needed help. As I had when I first started the business, I turned to my family.” And his family was there to pitch in, because family money is a lot like the invisible hand of the market—with the emphasis squarely on “invisible.”

As Sheehy writes, his father supported him “financially and emotionally, without expecting anything in return,” and his brother “wanted access to the company’s financial records and an equity stake in the business in exchange for a significant cash investment.”

Wow, those are some fancy, bedazzled bootstraps, aren’t they?

Meanwhile, part of Sheehy’s emerging legend is that he was so dedicated to his business, he and his wife lived in a tent inside a barn for a time. But there’s less to that story than meets the eye, too.

“Again, this is just true, every dollar we had, we poured into our company,” he said in September. “We literally lived in a tent in our barn for a few years.”

Fun story, but according to “Mudslingers,” tent life appears to have been a choice: Sheehy writes that he and his wife “could easily have moved into a pleasant enough place in Bozeman, thrown ourselves into raising a family and growing a business, figuring ‘someday, when we’re ready, we’ll buy some land and build a place in the country.’”

Meanwhile, Sheehy’s brother Matt, who’s worked for private equity and venture capital firms, was integral to the Senate hopeful’s early success in securing government contracts. That’s the same government that Tim insists helped him not at all. 

According to The Daily Beast, Matt helped Tim “[secure] a deal with the powerful Wall Street firm the Blackstone Group to fund a $200 million acquisition of Super Scooper planes—a move that teed up Bridger’s first big federal contract.”

“As I discovered throughout this process, it’s almost impossible to enter the U.S. aerial firefighting market unless you are already in it or are an exceptionally wealthy family or individual,” Sheehy wrote. “My brother and our finance lead, McAndrew Rudisill, eventually found our partner in the Blackstone Group.”

Right. Now imagine you were a food stamp recipient without a wealthy financier brother or any other meaningful connections. It might be even impossibl-er. 

Of course, Sheehy isn’t the only top conservative to suffer from this peculiar strain of scamnesia. They love their phony Horatio Alger stories because they know poor and middle-class Republicans eat them up. The thinking goes, “If that guy can make it with no government help, then anyone should be able to.”  

Sadly, these scrappy go-getters almost always leave out the part about their reliance on invaluable family connections.

For instance, Trump has always claimed that he built his business all by himself—with nothing but a “small” $1 million loan from his real estate mogul dad. But a 2018 New York Times investigation permanently stripped the bark off that well-crafted myth, noting that “Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.”

[T]he more than 100,000 pages of records obtained during this investigation make it possible to sweep away decades of misinformation and arrive at a clear understanding about the original source of Mr. Trump’s wealth — his father.

Here is what can be said with certainty: Had Mr. Trump done nothing but invest the money his father gave him in an index fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500, he would be worth $1.96 billion today. As for that $1 million loan, Fred Trump actually lent him at least $60.7 million, or $140 million in today’s dollars, The Times found.

RELATED STORY: Tax returns show that Donald Trump is a rich brat who has failed for decades

None of this is to say that Sheehy didn’t work hard to build his business. But the idea that he built it from scratch is just nonsensical—almost as nonsensical as the idea that Trump is, or ever was, a great businessman who built his fortune through hard work and ingenuity. 

Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

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