The clarifications did little to quiet the political speculation industry’s preoccupation with what Clinton was really up to: Trying to send a brushback pitch of some kind to Obama? Trying to win personal favor among Wall Street Republicans? Or perhaps engaged in some carom-shot calculation to help Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.

The genuine explanation, say people close to Clinton, is the same one that usually is the case: He was simply saying what he really thought, but in fuzzy, free-associating language almost guaranteed to produce controversy.

This was a habit that Clinton usually learned to control as president. But the circumstances now are much different.

Clinton, say associates, while mentally sharp, is older and a step off his political game, less attuned to the need for clarity and message-discipline during interviews.

“He’s 65 years old,” said one adviser, explaining how Clinton in a CNBC interview managed to say that the economy was in recession when it is not.