By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Before Tuesday it had been eight days since Donald Trump last held one of his patented rallies, and they may have been the worst eight days of his campaign.

His polling leads have vanished in several states including the next primary state, Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who is popular among Republicans there, just endorsed Ted Cruz. And his negatives are soaring with women, while he’s losing most head-to-heads with Hillary Clinton.

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Which is why the story of battery charges in Florida against Trump’s campaign manager for his alleged manhandling of a female reporter – an event Trump claimed was “made up” but has now been documented on video – is unfortunately timed for the Trump campaign. Whatever the legal merits, it syncs up with an emerging narrative about Trump being promoted by his enemies – that he is a dishonest bully who especially enjoys attacking women.

“When you’re married to a strong woman professional you see the nonsense that women deal with in the business environment,” said Cruz during a CNN Town Hall interview, amid camera cutaways of his wife Heidi, the target of unflattering tweets and insinuations by Trump. “You see the garbage they put up with.”

While Trump brushed off the Florida incident when it happened, and is standing by his man, his account of what happened at a Wisconsin rally Tuesday lacked the usual bravado: “She grabs me or hits me by the arm, in fact I’m like this with my arm up, and then he goes by, and maybe he touched her a little bit.”

Unsurprisingly, Cruz is less ambivalent. “Members of the campaign staff should not be physically assaulting the press,” he said during his turn on CNN.

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Which left Trump where he does not want to be right now, or ever – on the defensive.

“I didn’t start it, I didn’t start it!” he complained when Anderson Cooper pressed him on the mudslinging with Cruz.

“Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” said Cooper.

Trump: “I didn’t start it.”

At the town hall Trump rescinded his months-old pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee. And at one point Tuesday, he was asked if his behavior was “presidential.”

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His response raises the stakes for a campaign that’s gone from inevitable to a dogfight in a matter of days: “Nothing’s presidential except victory.”

Jon Keller