The Trump campaign is filled with internal rebuking of a potential loss, stimulating a desperate mood that is encouraged by a daily surge of harsh headlines.
"A lot of this is the president himself," one adviser said. "You can't heal a patient who doesn't want to take the diagnosis."
In weekly pep talks, Stepien tells staff members why they should not pay attention to all the terrible public polls, and how they can "win the week" and the campaign.
But in other private conversations, reported by multiple sources, Stepien can seem pretty pessimistic. He compares the campaign to an airplane flying through turbulence, saying: "It's our job to safely land the plane."
Three sources who have heard Stepien use variations of the airplane analogy say they believed he was very pessimistic about the situation of the race.
"It's not a great feeling when you get the sense the campaign manager doesn't deep down think we're going to win," one campaign source said.
Stepien pushed back strongly on that, telling on Friday morning: "With each day closer to November 3, our campaign data presents a clear pathway to 270 for the President that provides me more confidence than ever in President Trump's re-election."
"Our campaign knows how President Trump was elected in 2016 and more importantly, we know exactly how he's going to do it again," Stepien added.
Trump can still win. However, even his most loyal supporters, including those paid to believe, keep telling us he is going to lose and could bring Republican control of the Senate down with him.
Stepien's critics say he is in CYA mode, refusing to make difficult decisions that might provoke Trump's reactions while fixing up excuses for what polls suggest could be a shellacking by Joe Biden.
But Stepien's defenders said that the campaign sees several remaining ways to victory, and remark that it is hardly his fault when the president insists on actions like taking a ride with the Secret Service while infected by COVID-19.
They added that it is also hardly Stepien's fault that Trump proceeds to denounce his public health officials and present views that are out of step with public opinions, such as his denigration of the basic safety act of wearing a mask.
He is also dealing with a money shortage, driven by heavy early spending by his forerunner, Brad Parscale, who was demoted this summer.
Several campaign officials say they do not have a clear sense of what Stepien's plan is to get to 270 electoral votes.
To conclude: "In terms of really changing the trajectory of the race," said one campaign source, "there's only one person, from either side, who can do that. And that's Trump."