February 8, 2008

When Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign disclosed on Wednesday afternoon that the candidate had given herself a $5 million loan, it came as a huge surprise to the political world, which had assumed Clinton’s coffers were full. They weren't.

Within about 24 hours, however, a new narrative had emerged: with its back against the wall, the campaign is back on track thanks to contributors who stepped up when Clinton needed them most. What looked like a potential disaster became an opportunity, and the campaign ended up raising more than $4 million yesterday.

The good fortune is leading some to question whether the desperate financial straits were legitimate in the first place. TNR’s Jason Zengerle suggested Clinton’s $5 million loan may have been a “ruse.” ABC News had an item along the same lines.

One longtime Democratic consultant not affiliated with any campaign wondered if perhaps the whole thing wasn’t a big stunt to garner media attention and look like an “underdog.”

“I’d take this revelation as a sign that they planned this whole thing,” the consultant said.

Anything’s possible, I suppose, but I seriously doubt this was an orchestrated ploy.

First, even the ABC News report that speculates about this as a possible ruse includes no evidence of subterfuge at all.

Second, there was simply no reason for the campaign to take this kind of risk unless it's true. Nothing feeds into the “campaign on the ropes” narrative like financial trouble. It strikes me as implausible that Clinton would give herself a loan and allow her supporters to start to panic, all in the hopes that it might work to her advantage.

And third, if it was a ruse, it partially backfired — the Obama campaign used the Clinton loan to rally its own supporters, and the Illinois senator raised over $7 million the day after Super Tuesday.

I know it’s kind of fun to think every political event is orchestrated by clever tacticians who have coordinated strategies at play, but sometimes, things are what they appear. The most plausible scenario is that the Clinton campaign was having serious money trouble, and her donors responded.

It’s not the most entertaining explanation, but it’s probably the right one.

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