AMBRIDGE, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump on Monday put the claim that Bill Clinton was a sexual predator whose wife attacked the victims at the center of his flailing presidential campaign, insisting his own vulgar words about women in 2005 weren't as bad as the Clintons' alleged deeds two decades ago.
"I was getting beaten up for 72 hours for inappropriate words, locker room talk, whatever you want to call it," said Trump at a noisy rally at a high school gymnasium in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. "But Bill Clinton has sexually assaulted innocent women and Hillary Clinton was attacking those women viciously."
"Bill Clinton was the worst abuser of women to ever sit in the Oval Office. He was a predator," Trump added.
The rally was Trump's first campaign event following the town hall-style debate Sunday night against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival. It came just hours after the nation's most senior elected Republican leaders effectively dropped any effort to elect their own presidential nominee.
Monday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan told GOP House members he would no longer campaign for Trump and instead would focus on maintaining the party's majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, refused to even acknowledge Trump, telling business leaders in his home state of Kentucky that if they expected to hear him discuss the presidential race, they "might as well go ahead and leave."
The every-Republican-for-himself approach was a stark rejection of Trump after a history-making weekend in presidential politics. On Friday, The Washington Post broke the story that Trump had been recorded in 2005 bragging about groping women without their consent. Trump apologized "if anyone was offended" and in the same video said Bill Clinton's actions were worse.
Widespread condemnation followed. Even his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence refused to defend the remarks, with all eyes on Trump's Sunday debate with Clinton.
But before it began, Trump lobbed another bomb designed to change the subject to the Clintons' alleged treatment of women. He abruptly appeared live on Facebook at a table with women who have accused Bill Clinton of rape and unwanted advances. He then sat the women in the debate hall, where members of the Clinton and Trump families gathered to watch the debate.
Bill Clinton has denied or not admitted to the women's accusations. Hillary Clinton has never addressed them, and that held true through the 90-minute showdown.
Increasingly isolated, Trump on Monday tried to frame his candidacy as a comeback bid, saying he could revive a struggling nation and suggesting his supporters don't care about personal mistakes.
"The last 72 hours has framed what this election is all about," he said. "It's about the American people fighting back against corrupt politicians who don't care about anything except for staying in power."
But personal attacks clearly were his focus. In addition to Bill Clinton, Trump also invoked the 1969 incident when a woman died after then-Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy crashed his car in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. The celebrity nominee claimed the media protected their "hero" in Kennedy and was doing the same for the Clintons.
Trump's campaign was foundering even before The Washington Post published the 2005 video, which included comments by him that many said describe sexual assaults of women.
"When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," said Trump, who said he to "grab them by the p----" and they wouldn't resist.
Pennsylvania is a linchpin to Trump's hope to carry blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt, but the odds have long been stacked against him.
Reach Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire