Today, Paul Krugman published an opinion column with his thoughts on last night’s debate. Krugman says he’s not sure what the debate means for the primary race but he’s relieved it has at least changed the subject from Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan:

Wednesday’s Democratic debate was far more informative than previous debates. What we learned, in particular, was that as a presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg is a great businessman — and that Elizabeth Warren remains a force to be reckoned with…

What does all this mean for the nomination? I have no idea. But maybe the Warren-Bloomberg confrontation will help refocus discussion away from so-called Medicare for all — which isn’t going to be enacted, no matter who wins — to an issue where it matters a lot which Democrat prevails. Namely, are we going to do anything to rein in the financialization of the U.S. economy?

Krugman’s curt dismissal of Sanders’ top campaign priority is certainly an interesting approach. But he’s not the first to make this case. Just last week Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is Sanders’ most popular surrogate in the race, said something equally dismissive in an interview with HuffPost:

“The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option. Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so,” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez stressed that just getting a public option for health care wasn’t the left’s ultimate goal. But she also said she wasn’t here to railroad other members with differing viewpoints on health care ― she just thinks it helps to have a president who has a more ambitious platform than Congress so that Democrats could stretch what’s possible.

AOC isn’t known for her willingness to compromise on issues so what is going on here?

The backdrop to all of this is that some Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have expressed concern about what might happen to moderates if the nominee is pushing Medicare for All at the top of the ticket. At the time this concern was making news a few months ago, it was mostly Elizabeth Warren that Democrats were worried about.

In response, Warren actually tried to moderate her M4A stance, announcing a transition plan that would set aside single payer for the first three years of her administration. As it turned out, that probably backfired and helped Bernie Sanders take the lead in the race as the one candidate who wasn’t willing to compromise on the issue.

But if the issue seems likely to hurt Democrats and Bernie won’t compromise, what are Dems to do? The answer is to set the whole thing aside on Bernie’s behalf. Last week, Atlantic writer Derek Thompson noted the sudden trend of Bernie supporters, who are usually gung ho about M4A, suddenly saying it probably wouldn’t happen so people shouldn’t worry about it:

And now Krugman is joining this chorus: Fear not, he’s going to fail.

On the one hand, it’s almost certainly true that M4A won’t happen even if Sanders is elected. But what’s strange here is that Krugman and AOC are contradicting Sanders even as he continues to promise he can get this done at every packed rally. They’re not confronting him, they’re confronting his obstacle. It’s a weird dynamic but people around Bernie and people in the media are undercutting him to help him win. It’s the left’s version of “take him seriously, not literally.”

By the way, Bernie’s other big hurdle in the race is the (accurate) perception that he’s too far left to appeal to swing voters. Not coincidentally, just last week Paul Krugman wrote a column telling readers that Bernie Sanders wasn’t a real socialist. Ignoring considerable evidence to the contrary, Krugman declared that Sanders was just an ordinary left-wing Senator, albeit one who took glee from “shocking the bourgeoisie.”