Bush surprised by reaction to his friendship with Michelle Obama

"The American people were so surprised that Michelle Obama and I could be friends," Bush said

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When former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Michelle Obama embraced in 2016 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, it became one of the most talked-about moments on social media.

President Barack Obama watches first lady Michelle Obama embracing former president George Bush, accompanied by his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, while participating in the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture September 24, 2016 in Washington, DC, before the museum opens to the public later that day. The museum is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall featuring African American history and culture in the US. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Since then, the public’s reaction to the bipartisan friendship and the moment Bush refers to as “the big hug,” left him genuinely surprised. Their friendship “became more famous” when they exchanged candy at the 2018 funeral of John McCain.

In a new interview with CBS NewsNorah O’Donnell, Bush, 74, spoke about his friendship with Obama, 57.

“It shocked me,” Bush said of the attention. “We got in the car and I think Barbara or Jenna said, ‘Hey, you’re trending!’ The American people were so surprised that Michelle Obama and I could be friends.”

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Bush, the author of “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” told O’Donnell, “I think it’s a problem that Americans are so polarized in their thinking that they can’t imagine a George W. Bush and a Michelle Obama being friends.”

Over the years, Obama has spoken about her fondness for Bush and his family. During a December 2019 TODAY interview with his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, Obama said that dropping guards to “let ourselves become vulnerable” allows everyone to truly connect.

“Your dad is someone that, if you take the politics out of it, and I had an opportunity to sit by your father at funerals, the highs, and the lows, and we shared stories about our kids and about our parents,” Obama said. “Our values are the same. We disagree on policy but we don’t disagree on humanity. We don’t disagree about love and compassion. I think that’s true for all of us — it’s just that we get lost in our fear of what’s different.”

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In 2017, Bush spoke to PEOPLE about their “genuine” friendship, saying, “She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like.”

During Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ inauguration in January, photos of Bush and Obama went viral again with many folks joking on social media about their close relationship. “One thing about Bush, he gone find Michelle,” said one user.

Some critics aren’t as charmed by the viral relationship. Journalist Tana Ganeva once tweeted, “Sigh. The curse of the elderly millennial: getting politicized by Bush v. Gore, now living in a world in which all is forgotten because George Bush gave Michelle Obama a candy.”

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