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Trump campaign temporarily pauses ad spending to review its messaging

President Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on Thursday. (Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg News)

President Trump’s campaign has temporarily paused its television advertising with less than 100 days to go before the election, a move that comes amid a broader shake-up in his faltering bid for a second term.

Two weeks after Trump demoted former campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with Bill Stepien, the reelection effort is reviewing its spending, messaging and strategy in an attempt to boost the president’s fortunes. Polls have shown Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, as voters give the president low marks for his handling of the coronavirus.

“With the leadership change in the campaign, there’s understandably a review and fine-tuning of the campaign’s strategy,” said a senior campaign official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “We’ll be back on the air shortly, even more forcefully exposing Joe Biden as a puppet of the radical left wing.”

The Trump campaign’s efforts to hit the reset button and refocus ahead of the vote come as the president has continued to push divisive messages that have frustrated members of is own party.

On Thursday, Trump mused about delaying the November election due to concerns about alleged voter fraud, a prospect that was widely rejected by Republicans and Democrats. The president’s “delay” tweet, and others about “Suburban Housewives” have frustrated some in his campaign who are looking to hone their message against Biden in the final stretch of the race, according to another senior campaign official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Stepien is also looking at personnel allocation and whether it makes sense to have the campaign organized the way Parscale did, officials said. He has told colleagues he is determined to bring a new focus to the campaign, with daily staff meetings, check-ins with field staff and more accountability for officials. Stepien recently polled staff members and learned most had never worked on a presidential election before, according to an official.

Stepien has also told other advisers that the campaign must talk about coronavirus more often and forcefully.

Trump has told other aides he is impressed with Stepien’s command of data, but he has continued to veer into episodes that campaign officials see as unhelpful, officials said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Stepien spent an hour with about 100 reporters via video chat, arguing that the race was competitive and polls in 2016 were wrong.

NBC News earlier reported the pause in advertising spending, noting that the campaign spent almost nothing on television or radio ads on Wednesday and Thursday, and had almost no ads booked through the end of August.

It is not clear when the campaign will complete its review or return to the airwaves.

Even before Stepien’s promotion, the Trump campaign had struggled in its efforts to define Biden, who has largely campaigned from his Delaware home.

Biden has outraised Trump in recent months, and is continuing to run television ads, including spots that criticize the president for his handling of the pandemic.

The Trump campaign continues to hold a cash advantage against the Democrat.

Trump’s campaign, the Republican Party and two affiliated committees have spent more than $983 million since 2017, a record-breaking sum toward a reelection effort at this point in the presidential campaign, recent filings show.

The Trump campaign alone has spent more than $240 million, and Biden’s campaign has spent more than $165 million, as the two sides ramped up their general election efforts, according to Federal Election Commission filings made public last week.

Despite the historic spending, Trump has been slipping in national polls amid the spread of the novel coronavirus and a weakened economy. Biden holds a double-digit lead nationally and also leads the president in several battleground states.

Stepien told reporters last week that Trump is well-positioned to win reelection, dismissing public polling as skewed and flawed.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.