So much for distancing herself from Barack Obama. In the debate last night, Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders for his new “Medicare for all” proposal, and positioned herself as the defender of the status quo that is, er … not terribly popular. Nevertheless, Hillary wrapped herself firmly in Obama’s mantle as a way to attack Sanders, accusing him of wanting to tear up Democrats’ progress on health care:

Talking about picking the losing horse! In the past year, there has not been a single poll that shows a majority favoring the Affordable Care Act; in fact, the last one to show that was three years ago, almost ten months before the disastrous implementation of ObamaCare. Only three polls since have shown even a plurality in favor of ObamaCare, and all three were within the margin of error. Most polling show majorities opposed to the law, and the margins have widened of late.

So this is an unusual strategy for the general election. Does it really help Hillary in the primaries? The threat from Bernie Sanders comes from the progressive-populist grassroots who demonize corporations like insurers, and who demand health care as a right provided by government for “free.” Hillary tries to feign hostility toward insurers in her answer, but the knock on ObamaCare for the Left is that (a) it didn’t go far enough, and (b) it provided a captive market for Big Insurance.

Bernie’s plan, on the other hand, gives progressives both the single-payer system they demand and the soak-the-rich tax plan of their dreams:

There are still lots of questions about how the middle class would fare under his new plan. But it’s clear they would definitely do better than the rich.

Employers would put up about half of what Sanders’ staff think the campaign would cost. They’d pay a new payroll tax of 6.2 percent, equal to the amount employers already pay to Social Security. That tax would raise $630 billion a year, the campaign projects.

Most Americans would have to pay a “premium” – although unlike a premium for a conventional insurance plan, this fee would increase with the household’s income. That premium amounts to a 2.2 percent increase in taxes on earnings that would raise about $210 billion a year. With the standard deduction, it would apply to households earning at least $28,800 a year, according to the campaign.

The rich would pay through the nose. In addition to the premium, Sanders would increase the marginal rate on those earning at least $250,000 a year. Those earning between that amount and $500,000 would pay 37 percent on that income. Income between $500,000 and $2 million would be taxed at a rate of 43 percent; income between $2 million and $10 million would be taxed at a rate of 48 percent.

Needless to say, this single-payer proposal doesn’t have a prayer of passing through Congress. It’s yet another of Bernie’s socialist fantasies, given more gravitas simply because of his position in the polls. But the Democratic base doesn’t want to hear about reality in the primaries — they want someone who will fight. (Sound familiar?)

Without really gaining anything in the primaries, Hillary’s impassioned defense of Obama will make it a lot easier for Republicans in the fall to argue that she’s running for Obama’s third term — assuming she wins the nomination, which is looking more dicey every day. Chris Cillizza points out that these quotes right out of Hillary’s own mouth give the GOP a terrific ad to run all summer and fall:

Splice the three quotes I started this piece with into a TV ad. Throw in a visual or two of Obama and Clinton laughing or hugging. And whammo! You’ve got a terrific negative ad that puts lie to Clinton’s past insistence that she won’t simply be a continuation of Obama’s policies.

Now Republicans were already making that attack. And with or without Clinton’s strong defense of Obama on Sunday night, Republicans were going to keep making it. But the strongest (read: most effective) ads in this cynical time are the ones featuring the candidate herself saying things that seem to contradict other things she’s said.

Clinton handed that ad to Republicans on Sunday night. She might have had to do it — you can’t win the general election if you can’t get to the general election — but it comes with a major downside that Clinton will feel if she is the Democratic nominee this fall.

If. And that if grows larger with every passing day.