Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during an campaign rally last week in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Opinion writer

The most progressive wing of the Democratic Party is represented by two candidates: One is younger than President Trump, cheerful, doesn’t have the “socialist” label and has a zillion policy ideas. The other is five years older than Trump, prickly and humorless, has the socialist label and embraces the most extreme positions many in his party reject (e.g. allowing incarcerated mass murderers to vote). So far — to my ongoing amazement — Democratic primary voters tell pollsters they want the grouchy socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), not Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the cheerful policy wonk who declares she’s a capitalist, albeit one who recognizes that the system is “rigged."

We should remember that early polling might simply reflect Sanders’s name recognition, but nevertheless, it is not as if Warren is an unknown quantity. By virtually any measure, she’s a more accomplished and more electable choice, yet it’s Sanders who remains in the top tier of candidates. As Warren showed Monday night at a CNN town hall, she’s obviously the candidate with the most detailed, specific policies — and the one most capable of explaining detailed plans. She also manages to be less frightening — but bolder — than Sanders.

As to boldness, Sanders swore off pushing impeachment hearings now. Warren gave this impassioned plea:

Three things just totally jump off the page. The first is that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election in order to help Donald Trump. The evidence is just there. Read it, footnote after footnote, page after page documentation.

Part two, Donald Trump welcomed that help. ...

Part three is when the federal government starts to investigate part one and part two, Donald Trump took repeated steps aggressively to try to halt the investigation, derail the investigation, push the investigation somewhere else, but otherwise keep that investigation from going forward and turning into a serious investigation about a hostile foreign government that it attacked us and about his own personal interests.

So, here’s how I see this: If any other human being in this country had done what’s documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail. Obstruction of justice is a serious crime in this country. But [special counsel Robert S. Mueller III] believed because of the directions from Donald Trump’s Justice Department that he could not bring a criminal indictment against a sitting president. I think he’s wrong on that, but that’s what he believed. So he serves the whole thing up to the United States Congress and says, in effect, if there’s going to be any accountability, that accountability has to come from the Congress. And the tool that we are given for that accountability is the impeachment process.

This is not about politics. This is about principle.

Whatever you think of impeachment, that’s as good an answer as a candidate can give to a Democratic audience. It helps, of course, that she has actually read the whole thing (“if you’ve actually read the Mueller report, it’s all laid out there. It’s not like it’s going to take a long time to figure this out. It’s there. It’s got the footnotes. It’s got the points. It connects directly to the law”). With specifics she is able to make her case quite compelling: “He told the White House counsel to go fire Mueller, and then told the White House counsel to go lie about having told the White House counsel to go fire Mueller, and then told the White House counsel to write a letter saying that Donald Trump had not told him to go fire Mueller, and then to say, ‘Why on Earth would you take notes about what I said to you? The lawyers I deal with never put anything in writing.’” When she puts it that way, it’s hard to see how Sanders or other more cautious Democrats will explain their reticence.

Specificity is an asset in the policy realm as well. Warren has a fleshed-out plan and has a way to pay for it. “What we have to do as a country is roll back that debt. And so, I have two parts to the proposal,” she said. “Part one is that we say that we’re going to roll back student loan debt for about 95 percent of students who have debt.” She continued, "And part two is to make sure that we never get in this mess again on student loan debt and that is to make college universally available with free tuition and fees, and to put more money into Pell grants so that students of color, so that our poorest students have real access to college and that we put real money into our historically black colleges and universities. " She’s explicit about how to pay for it, without demonizing the rich:

I started several months ago about a wealth tax, an ultra millionaire's tax. It's 2 cents on every dollar of the great fortunes above $50 million. So, your 50 millionth and first dollar, you've got to pay 2 cents and 2 cents on all of the dollars after that.

And here’s the stunning part. If we ask the great fortunes in this country, understand, this isn’t about trying to be nasty or say you’ve done anything wrong, what it’s about is saying, look, you had a great idea. You got out there. You worked hard or you inherited well, whichever one it was. ...

And we say, good for you, that you have now gotten this great fortune, but 2 cents. You've got to pay something back so everybody else gets a chance.

And here’s how the money works out. If we put that 2 cent wealth tax in place on the 75,000 largest fortunes in this country, 2 cents, we can do universal child care for every baby zero to 5, universal pre-K, universal college and knock back the student loan debt burden for 95 percent of our students and still have nearly a trillion dollars left over.

Why, then, is Sanders high in the polls and Warren struggling? Somehow Sanders has convinced himself and a lot of Democrats that a socialist pushing 80 years old who wants to let incarcerated mass murderers vote is more electable. Seriously, Democrats? If you want the candidate farthest to the left who won’t be clobbered by alienated voters who elected moderates in 2018, you’d better look elsewhere — that is, if you actually want to win the White House.

Read more:

Hugh Hewitt: The Mueller investigation is still over

David Byler: Why hasn’t Elizabeth Warren achieved liftoff?

Jennifer Rubin: Elizabeth Warren has done her homework. Why hasn’t everyone else?