Let’s say the president had come out and simply said, “I made a mistake. I should have been clear that I accept the conclusion that Russia interfered in the election. The important thing now is to make sure they know there will be a heavy price to pay if they try it again.” It would have been bad — he’d have felt humiliated while his critics crowed. But it would have been right, it would have been over faster, and it would have impressed at least some critics that Trump was playing against type. It would have inspired confidence that his advisers had gotten through to him about the seriousness of the Helsinki lapses.

Now, instead, we will have elongated coverage of why the president’s new version — I had it right all along, I just tripped on a word — is not credible. (In another era, I would have said “we will have days of coverage,” but the news cycles are much shorter these days, and the president is good at quickly superseding the last story with the next story.)

One depressing thing I will never understand: Why Trump is unable to see that conceding an obvious fact — viz., that Putin’s effort was meant to ramp up support for Trump and opposition to Clinton — would neither undermine Trump’s legitimacy as president nor concede that Putin wanted Trump to win.