Watching Bernie Sanders declare that he’s about to say something that “may not be great politics” and then announce that “people are sick of hearing about Clinton emails,” many people wondered why on earth Sanders would hand such a major victory to Hillary during the first (and so far only) Democrat debate.  It made no sense.

She’d had a horrible horrible spring and summer, and her campaign was looking like it was about to implode—so much so that Joe Biden gave serious consideration to jumping into the race.  Sanders handed her a life-line that helped not only jump-start her campaign but set the stage for a cool, confident, cackling Hillary to face the Benghazi committee.   Not great politics?  Understatement of the year.

Watch as the significance of the moment slowly dawns on a bobble-headed Hillary:

She’s grim-faced and readying herself for battle as Sanders begins speaking, but by the end, she’s positively giddy as what he has said—and done—sinks in, and she breaks debate protocol by spontaneously reaching out to Sanders and shaking his hand in unconcealed euphoria.  Poor Sanders didn’t get it at the time.  But she did.

Sanders is getting it now, however, because even though he saw a modest post-debate bump, she won the debate, and the days since the debate have been Hillary’s.

Perhaps sensing a shift, Sanders, unlike Hillary and Martin O’Malley who stuck to their stump speeches, “threw out his script” at last night’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner, and launched thinly-veiled attacks at Hillary, and even Bill, Clinton.

Politico reports:

The Vermont senator, as always, did not go after the front-runner in a personal way or mention her by name. Instead, he delivered a fiery yet indirect indictment of her entire political career. In his 25-minute speech — backed up by the thundering chants of supporters chanting “Feel the Bern!” — he attacked Clinton’s slowness to take a position on the Keystone pipeline: “This was not a complicated issue,” he said. He lambasted her for now opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she once called the “gold standard” of trade deals.

“It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements,” Sanders said. And he reached back to Clinton’s 2002 vote to support the war in Iraq, an issue that plagued her eight years ago when she took the stage here. “When I came to that fork in the road I took the right road, even though it was not the popular road at the time,” he said.

. . . . the most pointed remarks were aimed by a plateauing Sanders at an ascendant Clinton. Nor was she the only Clinton he targeted. As Bill Clinton raises his profile, Sanders is increasingly criticizing him for his trade policy and social issues stances from the 1990s. Target No. 1 Saturday night: Clinton’s support of the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act. “In 1996, I faced another fork in the road — another very difficult political decision,” Sanders intoned. “It was called the Defense of Marriage Act, brought forth by a Republican-led Congress. Its purpose was to write discrimination against gays and lesbians into law.

“Let us remember, that support for gay rights back in 1996 was not what it is today,” he added — a pointed reminder of the Clintons’ recent-vintage support of gay marriage.

You can watch his whole speech if you are so-inclined:

Hillary, for her part, is not taking her own sudden good fortune for granted and is not going to be handing the baton back to Bernie any time soon.  Indeed, she was quick to play the gender card in response to Sanders’ comments about her “shouting” about gun control, firing back that “when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

Sanders is on the defensive today, responding to Jake Tapper on State of the Union that his remarks were not about Hillary’s gender. CNN reports:

Bernie Sanders says his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s “shouting” on gun control has nothing to do with her gender.

“What can I say — that’s just not the case,” the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender said Sunday in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Sanders criticized the “shouting” from both sides on gun issues in the first Democratic presidential debate. Clinton said Saturday in Iowa that Sanders’ remarks came with a gender-related undercurrent.

She said: “I’m not shouting. It’s just that when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

Sanders on Sunday laughed at her suggestion that his remarks were about gender.

“All that I can say is I am very proud of my record on women’s issues. I certainly do not have a problem with women speaking out — and I think what the secretary is doing there is taking words and misapplying them,” Sanders told Tapper.

Watch:

With Bill Clinton stumping for her, the media fawning over her, and even Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, heartily endorsing her as the one best suited to “protect President Obama’s legacy,” Hillary’s campaign is indeed ascendant at this point.

Meanwhile, Bernie must be wondering what the heck he was thinking when he had the upper hand and could well have delivered her campaign a fatal blow during that fateful debate.