How Bush and Clinton went from political rivals to best friends

But it was Clinton’s successor—Bush’s son George W.—who inadvertently facilitated the beginning of a genuine friendship between Clinton and the elder Bush more than 20 years later. In December 2004, after a tsunami devastated the coast of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, President George W. Bush called up the previous two presidents to enlist their help in figuring out how to administer aid. The two were soon on a tour of the region together, visiting local governments during the day and discovering at night that they had much more in common—including having been unlikely allies on education issues early in H. W. Bush’s presidency—than they’d initially realized.

Clinton and the elder Bush soon began hanging out stateside as well. They played golf together in a charity tournament with the pro golfer Greg Norman, and Bush routinely checked in on Clinton during his health scare in early 2005. When they flew to Rome a few weeks later for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the doubts of Clinton’s physicians were put to rest by assurances from Bush that he’d be looked after and always have a doctor nearby. Clinton also visited Bush at his seaside home in Portland, Maine, where the two men ate clams at a local seafood spot and rode around in Bush’s speedboat (which Clinton later said Bush “drove like a bat out of hell,” according to Duffy and Gibbs).