So, let’s think this through. When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says “extremist conservatives” have no place in New York, who was he talking about?

It was, to be sure, a surprisingly unfocused statement, unusual from a governor who controls his image and reputation as carefully as this one does. If he has presidential ambitions, as many believe, he will need to speak more prudently.

But what did he mean? Did Cuomo intend to suggest that politicians with traditional conservative views, which can range from low taxes to opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage – all subjects that he mentioned – should not only be excluded from state government but exiled to some other state? That’s what his critics believe – or, at least, it’s what they say they believe. Or was he referring to those on the fringes with views that are, indeed, extreme?

There is a distinction to be drawn, as even Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, acknowledged in a radio broadcast in which he criticized the governor’s comments. “Are there pro-lifers who are extremist?” he asked. “Yes, there are. But I think they are a distinct minority.”

But the fact is that extremist politics have become a destructive force in the nation. So, if the kind of extremism he is talking about includes those who threaten to prevent the nation or state from paying its bills when you don’t get what you want, then we suspect a lot of New Yorkers would be on board with that.

They might also agree with keeping out of office candidates who would shut down the government rather than compromise on legislation.

If, in speaking about abortion, Cuomo means the kind of extremists who murder doctors, shout in women’s faces outside clinics where abortions are performed and hold up jars of fetuses preserved in formaldehyde, many New Yorkers would agree with that, too.

It would be shocking, indeed, if Cuomo included in his denunciation conservatives who simply hold beliefs different than his. In truth, that seems unlikely.

As a spokesman noted, the governor works with Republicans who oppose abortion, gun control laws and same-sex marriage, so the likelihood is that he was careless with his language.

The state would be worse off without those conservatives providing some counterweight to the state’s liberal leanings.

Still, such carelessness, especially in an election year, is like handing – pardon the expression – a high-capacity clip to your opponents.

Thus, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, is firing away. So is Buffalo developer and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. So, even, is Bishop Richard Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Critics are clamoring for Cuomo to apologize. That seems unnecessary, and pointless, because it would not quiet the critics who have seized a sound bite to attack a governor whose policies they abhor.

But Cuomo would do well at least to explain himself better. Words matter, and it looks good for a politician to acknowledge that he could have done better. For a Democrat, it would look especially good to do it on Fox News. Governor?