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Story highlights

Trump attempts to reframe himself as a fighter in Colorado

Clinton questions Trump's business skills in Ohio

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump – struggling to move past a week of one controversy after another – is making clear that he’s willing to go it alone in the final weeks of the campaign.

As the Republican nominee tries to recover from one of his toughest stretches, few prominent GOP leaders – other than those who advise him or are on his payroll – seem willing to launch a full-throated rescue effort.

So Trump sought to do the heavy lifting himself Monday, delivering a feisty speech here that attempted to reframe the campaign and extract him from the quagmire of the past week, which included a disappointing debate performance, a roiling controversy over whether he paid taxes, and ill-advised attacks on a Latina beauty queen – a feud he couldn’t seem to let go.

Trump running out of time as controversies pile up

With a new CNN/ORC poll showing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with a five-point lead over Trump after the debate, Trump for the first time seemed to relish the role of underdog in the presidential race. He mounted an unapologetic defense of his business record, previewing lines he might deploy during his rematch with Clinton on Sunday.

Responding to a stunning New York Times report over the weekend that he may have paid no taxes for the last 18 years, Trump acknowledged here that he had been a “big beneficiary” of “the unfairness of the tax laws.” He acknowledged that he “brilliantly” used U.S. tax laws to pay as little in federal income taxes as possible.

QUIZ: Are you more like Clinton or Trump?

’I’m working for you now’

But, he added to an appreciative crowd, “I’m working for you now, I’m not working for Trump.”

Indeed, the day was all about Trump as few prominent Republicans rushed to his defense. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a policy wonk who once chaired the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, was the most senior lawmaker to address Trump’s troubles Monday in comments that were relatively tepid.

“I don’t think it’s that harmful,” he told local reporters in Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I think people who don’t like him are going to continue disliking him.”

Back in Colorado, Trump took on the stance of a fighter as he detailed his financial troubles in the 1990s – which he described as a “bad time” and an “ugly time” – boasting that he never considered giving up, and compared his own losses to those of working class voters across America.

“When the odds are stacked against me and you – because many of you people are the same way – when people say it can’t be done, that’s when we just get started,” Trump said. “We are looking for a comeback.”

“The thing that motivates me the most is when people tell me something is absolutely impossible,” Trump said. “For me, impossible is just a starting point.”

6 questions about Trump’s taxes and the political fallout

Across the country at Clinton’s event in Ohio – a state that may be beyond her reach despite its bellwether status in past elections – the former secretary of state sharply pointed out that it was difficult for Trump to claim stellar business skills after declaring $916 million in losses in his 1995 tax records, according to the weekend report in the New York Times.

“Here is my question: What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?” Clinton asked.

Verge of unraveling

Before attempting to reframe his life story as one of resilience and overcoming obstacles, Trump’s campaign seemed at the verge of unraveling this week, once again sending GOP lawmakers slinking away from their flailing nominee, as they try to contain the collateral damage to vulnerable House and Senate candidates.

Somewhat laughably, Trump blamed the fact that he failed to prosecute his case against Clinton in the first debate on a faulty microphone. He then attempted a Twitter takedown of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, a Clinton supporter who he had once criticized as overweight. Before long he was mired in the controversy over The New York Times story that found his reported losses may have resulted in him not paying federal income taxes for 18 years.

CNN has not independently verified the documents’ authenticity, but Trump’s campaign has not challenged any of the facts reported by The Times.

How Trump could lose a billion bucks but still live a billionaire life

Trump’s apparent self-sabotage – or perhaps merely tone-deafness – continued Monday morning at a forum in Virginia with the Retired American Warriors PAC where he seemed to suggest that U.S. soldiers and veterans commit suicide because “they can’t handle” post-traumatic stress or weren’t strong enough.