It took George W. Bush and Barack Obama a while to warm up to each other. They had many differences—in party, in age, in temperament, in style. Obama had risen to the presidency in part by peddling a harsh critique of Bush’s administration. The relationship grew gradually over time. The two men joked at the unveiling of Bush’s White House portrait in 2012. Bush invited Obama to the opening of his presidential library. By the time Michelle Obama and the former president embraced at the opening of the National Museum of African American History, stories emerged about the odd friendship between the couples.
That growing warmth was fostered in part by a detente between the two men. While Obama fired broadsides against Bush on the campaign trail, Bush mostly shrugged it off. He instructed Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to keep Obama briefed on responses to the economic crisis, Jonathan Alter reported, with Paulson deeming Obama far more informed about the economy than John McCain. During the transition process, Bush invited Obama and his national-security appointees to war games.
After Obama’s inauguration, Bush quietly left the scene and mostly avoided talking about politics. He repeatedly stressed the importance of allowing Obama to govern without the interference of an ex-president. The silence was so striking that when reports surfaced in April 2015, seven years into Obama’s presidency, that Bush had privately criticized Obama’s ISIS policy, it was headline news. Just as notably, former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer disputed the reports. “He never mentioned Obama. He gave direct, blunt answers to the hottest topics of the day involving politics of the Middle East,” Fleischer told CNN.