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Elizabeth Warren cuts through the ‘yada, yada, yada’ — but can she beat Trump?

Democratic presidential candidates take to the stage in Detroit Tuesday night.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty Images

To paraphrase Marianne Williamson, the self-help guru who’s running for president, there was much of the usual “yada, yada, yada” during Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts delivered the line that cut to the ideological heart of it: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she told John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland. “I’m ready to get in this fight. I’m ready to win this fight.”

You know what that means: Medicare for All and the alleged joys of the public option. Free college tuition and cancellation of all student debt. Addressing the existential threat of climate change, and while we’re at it, reparations and gun control. Ultra-progressive Democrats thrill to that agenda.


But is that the battle that wins the presidency in 2020? Is that a rallying call for enough voters in enough states to win the Electoral College and kick President Trump out of the White House?

Pragmatism is heresy — or the ultimate insult; “Republican talking points,” as Warren put it. Those who dare to question the marketability of the ultra-progressive agenda will get a smackdown, like the one Warren delivered so expertly to Delaney. No surprise, this longtime Harvard law professor and veteran of countless congressional hearings and Rachel Maddow interviews, is a skilled debater. And unless a more centrist Democrat with stature in the party takes her on with as much quivering passion as she exhibits — she will likely win the nomination.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont won’t be the nominee. For all his energetic yelling, arm-waving, and finger-pointing, he’s yesterday’s progressive news.

Pete Buttigieg is trying very hard to be the face of the future — so much so that the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., makes an irritating point of constantly referencing what grade he was in when momentous events took place. It’s easy to imagine Trump swatting him away like an annoying mosquito.


Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is a straight-talking, sensible moderate. But she needs a healthy dose of Warren’s outrage, especially when that outrage is turned against her. A presidential candidate needs a stronger rebuttal than saying it’s “incorrect” to say she’s “spineless.” That’s Warren’s unflinching description of those who don’t support a public option.

On Tuesday night, the candidates who fought back hardest against the ultra-progressive agenda are Democrats who won’t win the nomination.

“You might as well FedEx the presidency to Donald Trump,” warned former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper about the boundless progressive love for the Green New Deal. Addressing the migrant crisis at the border, Montana Governor Steve Bullock said, “Look, I think this is the part of the discussion that shows how often these debates are detached from people’s lives. We’ve got 100,000 people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give health care to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that.” Delaney also criticized the promise of “free everything” and warned that Democrats are setting themselves up for a George McGovern-Walter Mondale-Michael Dukakis debacle.

And then, there was Williamson. She won’t be president, any more than Bullock, Delaney, or Hickenlooper will. But she spoke truth to wonkiness, in non-threatening language to which ordinary people could relate.


“Everything we’re talking about here tonight is what’s wrong with American politics,” she said.

If Medicare for All is the big fight, “then the Republicans will so shut us down on everything else,” she added.

Later, she warned: “If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

In other words, keep up the “yada, yada, yada,” demand left-lurching purity, and get ready for four more years of Trump.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.