Ally of Trump staffer Paul Manafort: The staff is 'suicidal,' he's mailing it in

Donald Trump's behavior in recent days, from criticizing the parents of a fallen American soldier to declining to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, has strained the nerves of his campaign staff as he falls behind in the polls.

I exchanged messages Tuesday evening with a longtime ally of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whom I asked about who was calling the shots in the campaign. The response indicated that Manafort, a veteran of Republican politics brought in this spring for the transition from primaries to the general election, has lost control over his candidate.

"Manafort not challenging (Trump) anymore," Manafort's ally wrote. "Mailing it in. Staff suicidal."

After I tweeted those remarks, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller wrote to me, "The idea that Paul Manafort's mailing it in is completely erroneous. Our campaign just finished up our strongest month of fundraising to date, we're adding talented and experienced staffers on a daily basis, and Mr. Trump's turning out bigger, more enthusiastic crowds than Hillary Clinton ever could."

Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016.

Miller also sent a tweet quoting a conservative writer who called me "unabashedly liberal and very biased against conservatives." Miller tweeted a critical article about my role as moderator in last fall's CNBC debate, in which I asked Trump if he were running "a comic-book version" of a presidential campaign.

Strains between candidates and their staffs are commonplace in stressful moments of presidential campaigns. But Trump's campaign is unusual for the candidate's singular control over its daily message, which thwarts attempts at traditional discipline.

Trump's freewheeling style won him the Republican nomination over a crowded field of rivals. But the general election environment, and target audience, is far different.

The bombastic billionaire appeared to recognize that by jettisoning his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, now a commentator on CNN. Manafort's experience in national politics had reassured Republican veterans that a fall Trump campaign would more closely resemble the norms of recent presidential campaigns

Yet the recent Republican convention, marred by controversy and a high-profile speech in which primary rival Ted Cruz declined to endorse the nominee, was not up to recent Republican standards. And Trump's extended skirmishing with the parents of fallen U.S. soldier Capt. Humayun Khan, among other controversies, has caused increasing numbers of Republicans to criticize the party's candidate.

On Wednesday, Manafort told Fox News everything was good with the campaign.

UPDATED: This column was updated to include Wednesday's remarks from Manafort to Fox News.