Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) talk with Coffee Shoppe owner Jackie Smith in Selma, Ala., on Tuesday. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Opinion writer

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Beto O’Rourke couldn’t be more different.

She’s from Massachusetts, is a natural teacher and is brimming with solutions to just about every problem you can imagine. She raised kids, went back to college and law school later in life, helped create a consumer protection agency and got reelected to her second term in the Senate in 2018.

O’Rourke is from Texas, is a natural schmoozer and performer, and is lacking definitive solutions to much of anything. He’s more likely to say “We should consider that” or “We should have a conversation about that” than to actually have an answer and tell you what he wants to do. He has been on a city council, served three House terms and lost a Senate race.

The sad reality is that O’Rourke is in a much better position to win the nomination than Warren right now. He’s a perfect fit for the celebrity political era in which we live, has lots of free time to campaign, can raise gobs of money and hasn’t yet to be seen losing a one-on-one confrontation with the president. His main problem is the nagging sensation that there might be no there there.

Well, here’s the solution: Just like O’Rourke apparently leaves most of the child care to his wife, he can leave most of the policy creation to Warren. Maybe he can make her his vice president (O’Rourke has said he would like to run with a woman), but in any case, he can certainly lift her ideas. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time a man claimed credit for a female colleague’s work.

If someone asks about Medicare-for-all, O’Rourke on his own would talk at length to confirm that, yes siree, health care is important. A solution? He now sometimes references another bill in Congress (introduced, I kid you not, by two Democratic women, Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois) but spends scant time explaining how it works. So why not lift from Warren? O’Rourke would sound so much more presidential if he said something like this:

Right now, Democrats are trying to figure out how to expand health-care coverage at the lowest possible cost so everybody is covered. Republicans right this minute are out there trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They’ve got a lawsuit pending down in Texas where they’re trying to roll it back. What they couldn’t do with a vote, they’re trying to do with the courts. [The Department of Health and Human Services] every day is doing what they can to undermine the Affordable Care Act. So when we’re talking about health care in America right now, the first thing we need to be talking about is defend the Affordable Care Act, protection under the Affordable Care Act.

Then Part Two. Let’s make the improvements that are what I think of as low-hanging fruit. For example, let’s bring down the cost of prescription drugs all across this country. We got lots of ways we can do that. We can import drugs from Canada where the safety standards are the same. That would cut costs dramatically. We can negotiate the prices under Medicare. That would cut costs dramatically. And I’ve got a proposal to help bring down the cost on generic drugs, which could be about 90 percent of all prescriptions. So let’s get those costs down. And then you know what you’re going to hear from a consumer advocate, and that is we need to hold insurance companies accountable. And that means no tricking and trapping people on those insurance contracts.

And then when we talk about Medicare-for-all, there are a lot of different pathways. What we’re all looking for is the lowest-cost way to make sure everybody gets covered. And some folks are talking about let’s start lowering the age, maybe bring it down to 60, 55, 50. That helps cover people who are most at risk and can be helpful, for example, to the labor’s plans. Some people say, do it the other way. Let’s bring it up from — everybody under 30 gets covered by Medicare. Others say let employers be able to buy into the Medicare plans. Others say let’s let employees buy into the Medicare plans. For me, what’s key is we get everybody at the table on this, that labor is at the table, that people who have to buy on their own, everybody comes to the table together. And we figure out how to do Medicare-for-all in a way that makes sure that we’re going to get 100 percent coverage in this country at the lowest possible cost for everyone. That’s our job.

That was Warren’s answer at the CNN town hall on Monday.

On ethics reform? O’Rourke could endorse Warren’s plan. Housing? Warren’s plan. Taxes? You guessed it: Warren’s plan.

Maybe this would seem a tad goofy, but it would be no more preposterous than picking a president who entered the race without coming up with a detailed, thoughtful policy agenda for grave national problems. O’Rourke feels the need before giving his answers to hear what everyone has to say. (Any student slacker worth his salt will recognize a good stall and an excuse to peek at others’ answers when he sees one.) He appears to think voters will come up with the ideas rather than look to the professional politician running for president for thoughtful responses to their questions. (When he asks what they think, clever ones might retort, “We should have a debate about that.”)

Presenting oneself to the voters as the uniter to heal the country, I’d argue, requires one to bring along the ideas around which he proposes we should rally. Otherwise, the uniter isn’t leading; he’s following and, worse, hasn’t done his homework.

We are very, very early in the race, but this gap between ambition and content nevertheless rankles, perhaps more than usual, because we just elected a president who didn’t spend the time to formulate realistic policy and didn’t have the good judgment to listen to smart policy leaders. It hasn’t worked out.

Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that O’Rourke is more informed than President Trump and more capable of finding experts to serve, should he be elected. So why didn’t O’Rourke do his homework as Warren did, and why is he essentially stalling for time until he can come up with something? It would be a great question to ask him the next time he hops onto a counter near you.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Sen. Elizabeth Warren responds to my invitation to discuss policy

David Von Drehle: Democrats have to decide what to do with the two old men

Jennifer Rubin: How Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren seized their moment to shine

Kathleen Parker: Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 campaign is a youthful folly

Greg Sargent: Beto O’Rourke as the anti-Trump? Here are five takeaways from his launch.