An "arrogant" President Jacob Zuma told the ANC's top six during their meeting on Sunday night that the "people still love him", sources inside the party's national working committee (NWC) said.
The officials gave the NWC feedback following their two hours of deliberations with Zuma, during which they asked him to resign.
However, Zuma refused to step down, telling the party's leadership that he had done nothing wrong and that only the national executive committee (NEC) had the powers to recall him.
Zuma was so confident that he would still get party support that he wanted to make a presentation to the party's NEC.
But his request was rejected by the NWC, which then held an urgent meeting on Monday at Luthuli House.
"They told him we want to start an election campaign and we cannot do it with his face and with him in office with all his baggage, but he told them the people still love him," a source said.
'When your organisation says you must go it is humiliating'
The top six also put pressure on Zuma with the prospect that he could be forced out of office via a vote of no confidence already set for February 22 and an impeachment process that could cost him his pension if successful.
However, NWC members said Zuma was undeterred even by the state capture inquiry that will investigate his relationship with his friends, the Guptas, who are accused of looting state coffers.
"Zuma told them that he has survived eight or nine votes of no confidence and he believes he will survive another one. Even his supporters were shocked," another source said.
"The officials said they tried to tell him that an impeachment or motion of no confidence 'is bad for you', but he said to them 'when your organisation says you must go it is humiliating'," said another.
The NWC meeting lasted four hours, with some Zuma supporters coming to his defence and arguing against a recall.
"We started the debate all over again on why he should step down, despite the fact that the last NWC had agreed," another said.
Fired ministers didn't get chance 'to argue their case'
The debate ended in the defeat of Zuma's supporters and the NWC deciding to hold an emergency NEC meeting on Wednesday in Cape Town to decide Zuma's fate.
The meeting will be held on the eve of the State of the Nation Address (SONA), with some ANC members threatening to walk out if Zuma insists on addressing them.
The last NEC meeting in Pretoria mandated the top six officials to meet with Zuma to engage him on his exit.
"He told the NEC that he wants to make a presentation to the NEC, but it was rejected. One member said the NEC is not a trial and when he fired the other ministers they didn't come to NEC to argue their case. Like them he is a deployee of the party," the source said.
Some members now fear that SONA could be postponed if the NEC decides to recall Zuma.
Speaker Baleka Mbete is due to meet with political parties in Parliament on Tuesday following the DA's call for SONA to be postponed until Parliament "elects a new president".
The EFF wanted a vote of no confidence to be held before SONA. However, their request was denied, with a date for the motion set for later in the month.