Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton shared the stage in Cincinnati on Monday for the first time this year. The joint appearance was widely considered to be a vice-presidential-nomination audition for Warren—but watching the action you would be forgiven for thinking she already has the part.
Though the entire appearance seemed like one big commercial for a Clinton-Warren ticket, one moment stood out: Late in her speech, Clinton appeared to break from her script to fan the VP flames. “Let’s provide debt relief as soon as we can, as soon as we start to work, Elizabeth,” Clinton said. “We’ll take the day off for the inauguration, and then the Senate, the Congress, the White House, we’re going to get to work to give students and their families relief from this debt.” You can read that a number of ways, but those Democrats fantasizing of a Clinton-Warren dream team will hear the words “Elizabeth” and “inauguration” in the same breath and start to hold their own.
Warren, though, spoke first, making not just a we-need-to-stop-Donald-Trump endorsement by default, but an affirmative case for the presumptive Democratic nominee. She touted Clinton’s support for progressive goals like raising the minimum wage and regulating Wall Street. “We’re here with someone who gets up every single day and fights for us,” the Massachusetts senator said as Clinton looked on approvingly. “Someone who has spent her whole life fighting for children. Spent her life fighting for women. Spent her life fighting for families. Fighting for health care. Fighting for human rights. Fighting for a level playing field. Fighting for those who need her most. We’re here to fight side by side with Hillary Clinton.”
The lovefest between the two didn’t end there. The pair hugged on stage, and later hugged off of it. Warren paused at one point to lead the crowd in applauding Clinton and chanting her name. Hillary returned the favor, lavishing praise on Warren for the work she has done in Washington and on the campaign trail taking on Trump. Clinton even recounted a story of a recent phone conversation between the two that ended when Warren had to go buy her granddaughter “some sparkly shoes,” the type of anecdote not-so-subtly designed to suggest the two interact like real-life friends, not simply politicians.
The political case against Warren has been well covered by now. It could cost Clinton with her Wall Street donors, voters unprepared to go for an all-female ticket, and Democrats a Senate seat. Warren, too, has her own reasons to say no, including fears that she’d be marginalized in a Clinton administration. If either woman has those concerns, though, they didn’t show them on stage.
Clinton, most notably, struck a populist tone that sounded a good deal like the one we more often hear from Warren (and a certain senator from Vermont.) “This is not a time for half measures,” she said, which likely came as a surprise to those progressives who fumed this spring as she made the case for incremental progress on things like expanding health care and fighting climate change.
It’s possible that, even after this successful joint appearance, Clinton will instead go the “safer” route and pick someone like Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator reportedly atop her current VP shortlist. But judging by the excitement that Warren seemed to create—both at the event and on the cable news channels that broadcast it live—the question may no longer be whether Clinton can afford to pick Warren, but instead whether she can risk the letdown of picking someone else.