Read: The question Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want to answer
Yet if Warren’s candidacy is premised not only on progressive ambition but on the sheer breadth and specificity of her agenda, her growing support with Democrats may not be. Her fans like that she has plans, but it’s not the details they seem to be attracted to. Nor is their support based on a belief that Warren can deliver the scale of transformation she’s promising; indeed, nearly all of the attendees I spoke with yesterday expressed a deep skepticism that her agenda is truly achievable.
“I don’t necessarily think everything she puts out will get done. The Senate is the Senate,” Kolbi Brown, a 33-year-old hospital program manager, told me, referring to the GOP’s majority in the chamber. “I understand that it’s a system and she’s only a part of it.”
Brown said he was leaning toward voting for Warren but remained “very pessimistic” that Congress would enact such a far-reaching agenda. “I think she speaks the truth,” Brown said of Warren. “It’ll be a big boulder to push up the hill.”
Brown was attending the speech with his colleague, Rhonda Trousdale, a 53-year-old physician who told me that she and her friends call Warren “the kindergarten teacher” because of her ability to explain and boil down complex topics during the financial crisis. “She understands that things are really complicated,” Trousdale said.
I asked whether Trousdale believed that Warren could accomplish many of her goals if elected president. She paused. “They’re ambitious,” she replied. “Probably when she gets in office she’ll find that a lot of that is unrealistic.”
A pair of public-school teachers, Elizabeth Sweeney and Christine Ellrodt, both 59, hadn’t firmly committed to Warren, but they said they were attracted to her in part because of her detailed policy plans. “She seems to have really thought about everything,” Ellrodt told me. “I love the fact that she has a plan for everything. I really do.”
When the question turned to how realistic Warren’s ideas were, however, both women were unsure. Sweeney noted the uncertainty about the makeup of Congress. “All these executive orders isn’t the way to go either,” she told me, referring to the habit of recent presidents trying to go around recalcitrant lawmakers by acting unilaterally. “At least she has some ideas and we’re not starting from scratch,” Sweeney said of Warren.
The gap between the scale of Warren’s agenda and the difficulty in enacting it could be a challenge for her as the primary rolls on, as it is for her main competitor on the left, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The current front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, is pitching himself as a dealmaker, not a disruptor, who can forge consensus in Congress and build on the achievements of Barack Obama’s administration. Warren’s also battling doubts about her ability to beat Donald Trump, as Democrats worry about whether her agenda is too far left for the country, whether Republicans will succeed in attacking her past attempts to claim Native American ancestry, and whether sexism in the electorate will keep yet another woman from the Oval Office.