WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush tried to seem bemused Tuesday evening as he helped present a public service award to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I'm not sure what people expect will happen here tonight," he said.
Oh, but the political waves that rolled off the stage in Philadelphia: Political icons with eagerly awaited next chapters projected bipartisanship and shared a few laughs. And Bush endured the harsh criticism of the GOP's right wing for even showing up, even though he chairs the National Constitution Center's board.
"Hillary and I come from different political parties, and we disagree about lots of things, but we agree on the wisdom of the American people — especially those in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina," the former Florida Republican governor joked, referring to the states he and Clinton would compete in if they enter the 2016 presidential race.
Clinton was honored with the center's Liberty Medal for her public service and ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of women. "We are drawn here today by a common purpose," Bush said, going on to extol the values of the Constitution.
Critics were aghast that Bush would celebrate Clinton, particularly with controversy still raw over the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton was secretary of state at the time.
"Jeb Bush shows non-presidential mettle with Hillary Clinton medal," read the headline on a conservative website. Twitter burned for weeks. "@JebBush Really? Hillary. Really? #Benghazi," one person wrote Tuesday night.
Bush, already under fire for his advocacy of the Common Core education standards, was cordial toward Clinton, but his speech avoided talking about her career.
Clinton likewise spoke about how Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, worked with her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Speaking not long before President Barack Obama addressed the nation on the situation in Syria, Clinton said the use of chemical weapons warranted a U.S. response. "This debate is good for our democracy," she said.
Even as Bush seemed to brush off criticism, he never got too close to Clinton, denying a photo of them side-by-side that would surely be used against him in a future campaign.