President Donald Trump rarely, if ever, calmly explains himself to the public in sticky situations.

The story emerged late Tuesday that the president spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, congratulated him on what everyone knows was a rigged election, and didn’t mention alleged meddling in American campaigns.

It also came out that in doing so, he ignored a note from national security staff advising that not congratulate Putin and that he condemn the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a nerve agent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was just one of the critics, saying “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”

If you are disposed to believe Trump and also find the Russia collusion story overblown, many possible explanations might spring to mind.

Trump could have said that unlike his predecessors he is not among those who pine for a revival of the Cold War and was simply being diplomatic with a sometimes-rival nation.

Many people in both parties would buy that. But he left it to his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders afterward to say something almost suggesting that.

Whatever the veracity, the president himself could have said with some confidence that lecturing Putin would just be showboating, that the U.S. is already taking steps to tighten cybersecurity, that Russia already has sanctions imposed on it.

Again, it was left to Sanders to make the point. But when such arguments come from a staffer under skeptical grilling from news media, they come off as rationales after the fact. They don’t persuade you the president knows what he’s doing.

Trump also could have said that when his national security staff told him in writing not to congratulate Putin, they were being overprotective and, while he appreciates their concern, his overture will not cost us.

Instead, Trump was reported to have been upset that the briefing memo leaked out — which only served to confirm that it wasn’t “fake news.”

Sanders indeed said later: “We’ve placed tough sanctions on Russia and a number of other things where we have shown exactly what our position is” while trying to cooperate on mutual goals.

But Trump did not. He boasted to reporters of his “very good call” with Putin and said “We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future” — which left Sanders to clarify that no such rendezvous is currently planned.

And, the president said, “The arms race is getting out of control. As you know, he made a statement that being in an arms race is not a great thing.”

Putin indeed said as much. Trump repeated the phrase, but does he also believe we are in a Soviet-style arms race at the moment?

He could have shown some proficiency by saying so and by making some effort to show his views come from his independent thinking. He did not.