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Washington – When President Donald Trump’s internal polling suggested he was trailing Democrats in crucial states earlier this year, it did what any campaign would do: tried to bury the bad numbers.

When the findings leaked to the media anyway, an infuriated Trump and his aides first disputed the poll’s existence, then tried to dismiss its importance before finally firing some of the pollsters.

The deception and muddled messaging are part reflexive: Trump and his team have made a habit of discounting embarrassing news as “fake.” But the internal drama on the brink of Trump’s formal reelection launch could also signal trouble ahead if staffers are skittish about being candid with a boss who has made “winning” a central part of his brand.

“All news about the president’s polling is completely false,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “The president’s new polling is extraordinary and his numbers have never been better.”

The decision to oust Brett Loyd, the pollster now running White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s former polling firm, was seen by some as less about stamping leaks than a slap at Conway, whose close relationship with the president has inspired lingering jealousy.

Also getting the boot were pollsters Adam Geller and Michael Baselice, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters. Pollsters Tony Fabrizio and John McLaughlin will remain with the campaign.

It remains unclear whether the president was briefed on any aspect of the poll before it became public, but two people familiar with the situation said he had not signed off on it beforehand and learned about its findings and price tag from the media.

The campaign’s response to the polling flap was scattershot. Officials first denied the existence of the poll. Then ABC News reported on the numbers, which showed Trump losing to Democratic front-runner Joe Biden in several key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

In response to the story, Parscale admitted the numbers were accurate but tried to discount them, insisting they were outdated and flawed because they came before the release of the summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and before Democrats made their cases.

He pointed to a new, private survey he said showed “huge swings in the president’s favor across the 17 states we have polled, based on the policies now espoused by the Democrats.” The campaign has not released those results.

Trump was also dismissive.

“Those polls don’t exist,” he said in an interview with ABC News that aired Sunday night, insisting he’d spoken to another pollster who had concluded he was “winning everywhere.”

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