Donald Trump has replaced his presidential campaign manager weeks after a badly attended rally in Oklahoma and as he trails Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in the polls four months ahead of the US election.
Brad Parscale, who had served as the president’s 2020 re-election campaign manager since early last year, was being replaced by Bill Stepien, his current deputy campaign manager, Mr Trump announced on Wednesday evening.
The reshuffle came as Mr Trump struggled against Mr Biden, with continued criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 137,000 Americans.
Mr Parscale will remain as head of data and digital operations, the role he held during the 2016 campaign. Mr Trump had grown frustrated with Mr Parscale in recent months as polls show the president lagging Mr Biden, who has been largely limited to virtual campaigning from his Delaware home.
The president was reportedly angry after only 6,200 supporters showed up for a re-election campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month. Mr Parscale had boasted that more than 1m people had expressed interest in tickets.
Mr Trump issued his statement on Facebook, an unusual move that came after Twitter users with verified blue status were unable to tweet following the widespread hack of the accounts of Apple and Uber, and high-profile users such as Elon Musk, Tesla chief executive, and former president Barack Obama and his former vice-president Mr Biden.
“Bill Stepien has been promoted to the role of Trump Campaign Manager,” Mr Trump wrote. “Brad Parscale, who has been with me for a very long time and has led our tremendous digital and data strategies, will remain in that role . . . Both were heavily involved in our historic 2016 win.”
Four years ago, shortly after the Republican convention, Mr Trump shook up his campaign by replacing Paul Manafort, a veteran political operative, with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Mr Bannon became chief White House strategist but was later fired. Ms Conway is a top White House aide.
In his announcement, Mr Trump said he would have an easier time winning this year because his “poll numbers are rising fast” and because the economy was improving.
But polls show that he is trailing Mr Biden and also behind in the critical swing states that helped him beat Hillary Clinton four years ago.
Mr Biden leads nationally by an average of nine points, according to Real Clear Politics. He has the edge over Mr Trump in almost all the key swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
Mr Trump has a small lead in Iowa and Georgia, which is not normally a swing state, and they are tied in Ohio. The two men are also neck and neck in Texas, which has not backed a Democrat for president since 1976.
In recent weeks, Mr Trump has touted better job numbers as evidence that he will be re-elected. But while there has been a rebound in employment, including 4.8m jobs added in June, the jobless rate is 11.1 per cent.
A number of states in the south and west, including Florida, Arizona and Texas, have recently emerged as new Covid-19 hotspots, forcing their governors to reverse course on easing lockdowns. That has raised concerns that the economy will suffer further, particularly as extra unemployment benefits included in a congressional rescue package run out this month.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that he was handling the pandemic well, while trying to shift the blame for the global spread to China.
But his administration has come under criticism for failing to create a national strategy, including on testing, that will address the public health crisis sufficiently to make it possible for the country to properly reopen.
The US on Wednesday recorded its second-biggest one-day jump in Covid-19 cases, propelled by near-record increases in California and Florida.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi