Donald Trump did something Thursday that you might not think is all that big a deal: He forgave more than $50 million in personal loans to his presidential campaign.
This isn't new money Trump is donating to the campaign. It's money that has already been given — and spent. But, that misses how important — and necessary — what Trump did actually is: In forgiving the personal loans, he turned them into contributions. What that means in plain English is that he can't refund that $50 million to himself out of the campaign's coffers — now or ever.
Many major Republican donors have been sitting on the sidelines for the seven-plus weeks Trump has been the presumptive nominee. There are lots of reasons for their unwillingness to back Trump more fully, but the biggest one was that they simply didn't trust that Trump was genuinely committed to the race.
Why spend time and political capital — not to mention money — on a guy who, at any moment, might take the cash you collected and use it not to beat Hillary Clinton but rather to make himself whole again? The idea of helping Trump stay exactly as rich as he was before this campaign began didn't sit well with major donors, many of whom fundamentally disagree with him on lots of policy matters as well. That Trump had repeatedly insisted he would forgive his loans — and repeatedly refused to do so — also didn't make these donors particularly sanguine.
It became clear earlier this week that Trump's lack of major donor support was badly hampering his ability to raise money. In May — a month in which he was the presumptive Republican nominee for 27 days — Trump raised a stunningly low $3.1 million and ended the month with $1.3 million in the bank. That was, roughly 1/42 of how much Clinton had in the bank at that point. Cue panic.
Trump, naturally, sought to paint the decision as a total power move from a guy who knows exactly what he is doing at all times.
"He has personally invested in excess of $50 million dollars in the future of our country," read a release from Trump's campaign announcing the loan forgiving. "Unlike the all talk, no action politicians that have failed the American people for far too long, Mr. Trump is not beholden to the special interests that have corrupted Washington, D.C. Mr. Trump will continue to put America and our people first."
Here's the truth: Trump was withering on the vine. Another month like May and his campaign's lack of fundraising would have crippled his chances at recovery or victory. The decision to forgive his personal loans is an acknowledgment of just how desperate he is to get major donors on board — and fast.
Trump has promised that he can self-fund the entire general election campaign if he wants. That's a price tag of, at a minimum, $500 million, and, perhaps, at least double that amount. It's not clear whether Trump's wealth is liquid enough for him to stroke that sort of check — or whether, even if he had the money, he would be willing to spend it.
Given those realities, Trump had one choice: Forgive the $50 million loan in hopes of raising lots more than that via the major donors within the GOP ranks who will now think that you are actually serious about this whole running for president thing.
When you have one choice in politics, you take it. That's all Trump did today.