“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.”

Behind the scenes: In weekly pep talks, Stepien tells staff members why they shouldn’t pay attention to the perennially horrible public polls — and how they can “win the week” and the campaign.

But in other private conversations, described by multiple sources, Stepien can seem darkly pessimistic. He likens 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 sensed he was deeply, perhaps irretrievably pessimistic about the state of the race.