Indeed, the White House has created a bond among the families, from George H.W. Bush, who presided over the end of the Cold War but watched his popularity fade, to Bill Clinton, whose "I feel your pain" message created a connection with Americans that survived impeachment. The younger Bush, who choked up at the end of his speech here, is remembered for a bullhorn speech amid the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks in New York that was followed by draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that left him unpopular.
"The presidents' club is small," said Mary Matalin, a longtime adviser to the Bush family. "Only presidents who have sat behind that desk in the Oval Office know the weight of it. There's just a bond there that nobody else can understand except for a handful of people who have done it."
The families first squared off in 1992, when George H.W. Bush ran for re-election and faced Bill Clinton and independent H. Ross Perot in a riveting campaign that took place as Bush's sky-high approval dwindled following the first Iraq war.
Clinton repeatedly questioned Bush's handling of the economy while the incumbent challenged the fitness for office of Clinton and running mate Al Gore, punctuated by Bush's claim that his English springer spaniel, Millie, knew more about foreign policy "than these two Bozos."
George W. Bush served as an aide to his father's re-election campaign, giving him a close-up view of his father's defeat — and plenty of reasons to dislike the opponent. But the harsh words quickly subsided.
When the Clintons arrived at the White House in January 1993, aides to both families said the Bush family was gracious to the new president and his family. The elder Bush avoided criticizing his successor and after Clinton's presidency, the two joined forces to raise money for victims of the devastating tsunami in Asia in 2005 and Hurricane Katrina in 2006.