WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - President Donald Trump's campaign is cutting ties with three members of his polling team after grim numbers showing him trailing former vice-president Joe Biden in several battleground states were leaked to the media last week, according to several officials with knowledge of the matter.
Days ahead of Mr Trump's official launch of his re-election bid on Tuesday (June 18), the campaign is severing its relationship with Mr Brett Lloyd, Mr Mike Baselice and Mr Adam Geller, while keeping pollsters Tony Fabrizio and John McLaughlin.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal moves.
The Trump campaign declined to comment.
NBC first reported on the campaign's actions.
The news follows reports - first by Politico, and later by the New York Times - on a 17-state internal poll conducted by Mr Fabrizio that showed Mr Trump trailing Mr Biden by double digits in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan, where Mr Trump narrowly edged out Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The poll also found Mr Trump trailing Mr Biden in several other states that were key to the President's win - Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Georgia - while holding a narrow edge in strongly Republican Texas.
Publicly, Mr Trump initially declared that the results had been fabricated by the media and "don't even exist".
But his campaign manager Mr Brad Parscale later confirmed that the results were indeed from a poll conducted by the campaign in March, and last Friday, ABC News published the poll results.
Privately, the President was livid that the numbers leaked out, according to White House and campaign officials.
"He is madder that the numbers are out than that the numbers exist," said one senior administration official, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr Trump's "kill the messenger" strategy in response to the leaked polling data reflects his desire to show strength at all times, even in the face of less-than-favourable news from within his own campaign.
The disclosure of the polling data has upended what has been a relative smooth-running re-election operation so far - and highlights the stark challenges the President faces in forging a coalition to repeat his 2016 victory.
While there has been some tension between Mr Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and White House adviser, and Republican National Committee officials, it has largely remained behind the scenes.
The campaign has taken particular pride in running a more functional operation than in 2016. Advisers such as Mr Parscale, Mr Justin Clark and Mr Bill Stepien have visited key states like Pennsylvania to meet state party leadership and activists. The campaign has moved to install Trump loyalists as state party chairmen and delegates for the convention and has sought to project a sense of unity with the RNC in its sprawling headquarters overlooking the Potomac River in Rosslyn.
They have hired dozens of people - eclipsing the size of the ragtag Trump operation in 2016.
Several campaign advisers said they were dismayed by the leak of the polling data - but that the numbers, and conversations with advisers, explained Mr Trump's fixation on Mr Biden, who is currently leading early public polls in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Mr Trump has complained to staff about the polling data disclosure for several days, White House and campaign advisers said.
The internal poll shows there is significant work to be done, and that Mr Trump has potentially turned off some of the voters he will need to have a chance at winning.
Public polls, too, have shown that Mr Trump is a president who remains mired at around 40 per cent approval and has never been above water since he took office.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday showed Mr Trump's job approval rating at 44 per cent. The survey showed that only 11 per cent of Democrats, 17 per cent of African Americans, 32 per cent of Latinos and 36 per cent of women approve of the job Mr Trump is doing as president.
His approval rating among Republicans, however, remains high at 84 per cent, giving him a solid electoral base in reliably red states such as Alabama, Mississippi and the Dakotas.
And despite the internal poll data, Mr Trump retains the power of incumbency, with Election Day 17 months away and the Democrats' first presidential nominating contests in eight months.