Speaking today to a crowd of roughly 2,500 in a high school gym, with thousands more watching on a giant screen outside, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump followed up the previous night’s bruising debate with an equally pugnacious speech.
"My whole life I've been a fighter, and now I'm going to fight for you," Mr. Trump said during a 45-minute speech, his first public appearance since Sunday night's debate.
In an address that appeared to rely on teleprompter, Mr. Trump said the debate had been "a lot of fun, and I would say that Hillary is highly overrated."
He spent much of his speech revisiting Sunday night's debate, repeatedly boasting that Ms. Clinton had been unable to defend herself from his attacks.
"I was getting beaten up for 72 hours on all the networks for ... locker room talk, whatever you want to call it," he said, referring to the Friday release of a decade-old tape recording in which Mr. Trump boasts of physically accosting women. But as he did last night, he argued that "Bill Clinton sexually assaulted innocent women." He blamed Ms. Clinton for being "deeply familiar with her husband's predatory behavior," and enabled him "to take advantage of even more women.”
Mr. Clinton has never been charged with, let alone convicted of a crime, and the accounts of his accusers are hotly contested. But Mr. Trump showed no signs of backing down, promising to revisit the issue throughout the campaign "if they want to release more tapes about saying inappropriate things."
Mr. Trump — and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who also appeared — returned repeatedly to his debate-night threat to have Ms. Clinton investigated by a special prosecutor for alleged crimes involving her email server. Mr. Giuliani said he had spoken with a federal judge — who he did not name — who told him "part of that debate sounded like a confession to a federal crime."
For his part, Mr. Trump recited a litany of accusations regarding Ms. Clinton's use of a private email server. It prompted — not for the first time — chants of "Lock her up!" from the crowd.
"Special prosecutor, here we come," said Mr. Trump.
That kind of language bothers some legal observers. Wesley Oliver, who teaches criminal law at Duquesne University, said he thought Mr. Trump's pledge last night "wasn't meant literally. But "he's said so many things that could be taken literally when he doesn't mean them that way."
And he worried Mr. Trump's rhetoric would "have a long-term effect on the country" in that "when Hillary Clinton is elected, and I believe she will be, I think it undermines her legitimacy."
Much of the rest of Mr. Trump's speech reprised familiar promises, including Mr. Trump's pledge to bring back steel jobs to Pittsburgh region. "We're going to start making things in America again. And we're going to start making things in Pennsylvania again," he said.
Mr. Trump ascribed the disappearance of those jobs to global trade deals, a premise that many economists reject. But whatever the merits of his diagnosis, Mr. Trump professed allegiance with the workers who'd once held those jobs.
"I'm not proud of everything that I've done in my life," he said. "But I'm proud that I've always treated the blue collar workers that make this country run with tremendous respect."
Today's appearance came in the wake of defections by some high-profile Republicans from Mr. Trump's banner, including Arizona Senator (and 2008 presidential nominee) John McCain and Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
But the crowd inside responded enthusiastically and members of the audience — at least one of whom wielded a "Trump That B-tch" sign — seemed to take the coarse language used in the leaked videotape in stride.
Five hours before Mr. Trump took the stage, hundreds were lined up on the street outside, where a clutch of young men chanted "Trump! Trump! Trump!" at passing traffic, along with an occasional vulgar chant about Ms. Clinton.
"I am absolutely voting for him," said Ambridge resident Joann Crano. "Most of my family changed from Democrat to Republican this spring to vote for him."
Ms. Crano, whose T-shirt read "Gun-toting deplorable Christian women vote Trump," said she'd admired Mr. Trump for "his honesty. He's not your typical insider."
Like others in line, Ms. Crano said she was pleased with Mr. Trump's performance in a "town hall" style debate last night: She called it "1000 percent better than his first one. I think he was nervous: He's never been in this ring before."
She also said she was satisfied with his handling of questions about a decade-old tape that surfaced on Friday. In the tape, Mr. Trump can be heard boasting about accosting women, including grabbing their genitals.
"Was that appropriate? No," Ms. Crano said. "But I don't think that's the person he is. I think he was trying to be one of the guys."
"You're talking about words, not actions," she added. "Bill Clinton basically molested a young intern in the White House" -- a reference to the former president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
"Guys talk. They say things that never happen out of bravado," said Ron Burrows, of Salem, Ohio. "Even if [the remarks] were genuine, it was no big deal. It happens every day everywhere."
"He didn't have anybody killed, or be responsible for people dying," added Beverly Bruno, referring to the 2012 attack on American diplomats at Benghazi. "And his [spouse] wasn't in the White House."
Ms. Clinton, the Columbiana, Ohio, resident said, bore some responsibility for Mr. Clinton's infidelity because "she's too wrapped up in herself to pay attention to her husband."
Mr. Trump's visit comes as recent polling in Pennsylvania has shifted against him. Last week, a Monmouth University poll showed Ms. Clinton leading in the state by 10 points; a Franklin & Marshall College poll showed her leading by 9. Sunday evening, widely regarded political prognosticator Larry Sabato moved Pennsylvania from "Leans Democratic" to "Likely Democratic," noting that "her lead in polling averages right now is bigger than the 5.5 point margin of victory Obama enjoyed in Pennsylvania] in 2012."
But in Ambridge, a borough built by manufacturing and now haunted by its decline, Mr. Trump finds a suitable backdrop for his themes: opposing trade pacts, and trying to restore American manufacturing.
Named for one of its chief employers over a century ago, American Bridge, the 1.7-square-mile borough has fallen on hard times. Its population of 7,000 residents is about one-third of its 1930 height, and nearly 29 percent of its current residents are living below the poverty level -- almost twice the level of the state as a whole.
"When people aren't doing well economically, they look for someone to scapegoat," said Ross McCoy, a Clinton supporter who joined a demonstration across Duss Avenue from where Mr. Trump's backers were lined up. "It's usually someone at the bottom and not at the top.
Mr. McCoy, who said he'd lived in Ambridge his whole life, said that when the community booming, "not just my family but everybody here was an immigrant. Now we're one of the most depressed areas in the country, and attitudes about immigrants are drastically changing.
Nearby, a group of female union members affiliated with the United Steelworkers cat-called those waiting to enter the Trump event. The two camps traded gibes -- some in obscene language -- from across a street thick with traffic, including a pick-up truck circling the area with a "lock her up!" sign and a caricature of Ms. Clinton mounted in the bed.
"We're here because we're women, and we know what Trump stands for, and what Hillary stands for," said Paulette Battisti. "He objectifies women, and we won't be grabbed by our genitals, or called ugly."
Ms. Battisti said she spent 17 years working at the local water authority. She described the experience of "working in a male-driven field as being like Trump running for President: It was hell. But I succeeded and moved on, and so will we."
Standing nearby was Bennett Lefebvre, a senior at Ambridge Area High who said Mr. Trump's appearance at the school didn't reflect the student body. "The student body is very diverse, and everyone supports everyone else," he said. "It's a bully-free zone -- so I don't know why they'd let Trump here."
First Published October 10, 2016 1:08 PM