It’s not easy to find the precise adjective to best describe Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” and the female body having “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

“Ignorant” isn’t bad for starters. “Clumsy” is a bit weak. Disastrous, heinous, horrible, awful, infuriating, frustrating, devastating … the list goes on.

“Wrong, offensive and indefensible,” were the adjectives chosen by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” was the way Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney summed it up.

But no matter how difficult it is to describe Akin’s comments, it’s got to be easier than trying to take them back.

What Akin said in a 20-minute interview with reporter Charles Jaco that aired Sunday on KTVI (Channel 2) is consistent with the beliefs that led Akin to be among 227 co-sponsors of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. This bill introduced the term “forcible rape” into the political arena.

Forcible rape? As opposed to what? Consensual rape? Friendly rape?

One of the public figures who has come to Akin’s aid, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who now hosts a Fox News Channel talk show and a radio show, has some experience in trying to cope with the backlash that outlandish statements about rape and pregnancy can cause.

Huckabee fought this battle when he named his friend, the late Arkansas politician Fay Boozman, to run the state’s health department. Boozman had argued in his unsuccessful 1998 campaign for the U.S. Senate that “fear-induced hormonal changes could block a rape victim’s ability to conceive.”

Boozman, like Akin, later backed off his statement, saying it was “not statistically based.”

Akin spoke on Huckabee’s radio show on Monday to apologize for his comments. He said he had been “talking about forcible rape” and had used “absolutely the wrong word.” He might have been using an old playbook.

Led by Huckabee’s careful questioning, Akin acknowledged that he understands rapes can cause unwanted pregnancies. “I also know that people do become pregnant from rape,” Akin said. “It does happen.” He added: “Rape is never legitimate.”

Words cannot be unspoken.

Of course politicians make mistakes and say things they wish they hadn’t. They also sometimes say things they regret. Clearly, Akin wishes he had not said “legitimate rape.” He also unquestionably regrets saying he understood from doctors that pregnancy is “really rare” in rape cases and suggesting that women can control whether they become pregnant.

Regretting and apologizing are easy. But figuring out what Akin really believes in this situation is not.

He opposes abortion, which is a defensible position based on religious and moral beliefs. He opposes abortion in cases of rape, which is the question he was trying to answer from Jaco. These are consistent positions and ones that Akin long has held.

However, the phrase “legitimate rape” is no better or worse than “forcible rape.” They are sexist terms used to distinguish between such things as an attack from a stranger and date rape. This is language used to disguise the types of sentiments that were once OK to express — such as suggesting that a woman who was raped after being dressed in provocative clothing was “asking for it.”

Akin’s efforts to clarify what he said on Sunday came only after he was engulfed in the firestorm his words had created. It came only after Republican Party heavyweights, both at the state and national levels, had begun calling for him to step aside.

Under state election law, Akin has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to withdraw from the race without going through a convoluted legal process. If he were to resign, the GOP state committee would choose his successor to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

As of Monday afternoon, Akin was vowing to stay in the race. That’s a decision that he’ll have to make without our advice. But we will say this:

No one should be surprised that Akin made an extreme and offensive comment. As we noted about Akin last month in discussing the GOP primary candidates, “He isn’t faking it when he endorses the worst of the GOP agenda. He actually believes it. What you see is what you get.”

Whether Missouri Republicans stick with Akin or toss him aside, they’re stuck with a problem of their own making. A legitimate problem.