Jenna Bush Hager has recalled how ‘crushed’ her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, was when he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton as an incumbent.
In an interview for Maria Shriver’s The Sunday Paper, the Today host, 39, opened up about her late grandfather starting the tradition of the outgoing president leaving a letter for the incoming commander-in-chief on Inauguration Day, saying no one had to explain to her what a ‘peaceful transition of power’ was because she saw it firsthand.
‘We just witnessed it and then we knew that our grandfather had left a note for President Clinton when he lost — and it was my grandfather that actually started that tradition,’ said Jenna, who was a child at the time.
Looking back: Jenna Bush Hager, 39, has recalled how ‘crushed’ her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, was after he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton
Gracious: Bush wrote Clinton a letter and applauded him on his Inauguration day in 1993 (pictured). Bush’s letter to his successor started a tradition for modern presidents
‘We also knew how sad he was that he’d lost. We were sitting there with him on election night and there was a point when all the adults became quieter and there was a shift that even children (we were 11, maybe) could feel,’ she remembered.
‘We knew how disappointed he was because he wanted to finish the job that he had started, and he felt crushed.’
Jenna said that despite his heartbreak, her grandfather also ‘felt a huge responsibility to help Bill Clinton and his staff transition’ that inspired the letter-writing tradition.
‘He was such a gracious man that he created this tradition that continued up until point where the outgoing president leaves a note for the incoming president,’ she explained.
Memory: Jenna said no one had to explain to her what a ‘peaceful transition of power’ was because she witnessed with her grandfather, who conceded on election night (pictured)
Different time: In his handwritten letter, Bush told Clinton he was ‘rooting hard’ for him. He left the message in the desk in the Oval Office for his successor to find
Bush, who delivered a concession speech one day after Clinton was projected to win the election, told the Democratic challenger that he would be ‘rooting’ for him.
Following in his footsteps, Clinton wrote a letter to his successor, Jenna’s father George W. Bush, who did the same for Barack Obama.
Obama continued the tradition with President Donald Trump, but it’s unclear if he will pen his own message to President-elect Joe Biden after spending 65 days refusing to concede and being impeached for inciting an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
Despite recent events, Jenna has faith that democracy will prevail and the country will return to peace.
‘There are plenty of gracious leaders and this tradition of letter writing has gone on since 1992 and it’s something that we’ve seen time and time again,’ she said. ‘I’m not worried about our democracy because [this election] is the exception. Our norm is grace. And I feel confident that’s where we’re headed.’
Happy time: Jenna (center) said her grandfather’s inauguration in January 1989 was one of her ‘earliest memories,’ but she ‘never really knew the gravity of what was happening.’
Dynasty: Jenna later attended her father George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001 (picture)
Bush senior famously became good friends with Clinton, his political rival, and Jenna recalled how Clinton would call himself ‘the fifth son and the black sheep of the family.’
‘I think it spoke a lot about the humility of my grandpa that this person who had crushed his political dreams, ended his presidency after only four years, would become somebody who was a close confidant and friend,’ she said.
With Biden’s inauguration days away, Jenna reflected on her grandfather’s inauguration, explaining that the event, which she attended when she was just seven years old, is her ‘earliest memory’.
‘My sister [Barbara] and I were little — we were in first grade — and we didn’t quite understand the significance of it,’ she said. ‘We just saw somebody that we loved being sworn into office. We loved balloons and the parade.
‘And we’re from Texas so even just to be in Washington when it was cold and beautiful and wintery — it was almost like living a dream.’
Heartwarming: Bush and Clinton (pictured in 2005) became close friends despite their political rivalry. Jenna recalled how Clinton would call himself ‘ the black sheep of the family’
All grown up: Jenna and her husband Henry Hager have three children: Mila, Poppy, and Hal. ‘I’m not worried about our democracy because [this election] is the exception,’ she said
Jenna recalled that she and her twin sister Barbara were ‘freezing’ outside, so their mother, Laura Bush, let them return to the White House early before anyone else.
Florist Nancy Clarke took the girls to the floral shop and had them make bouquets for their grandparents’ bedside. Nearly two decades later, she hired Clarke to do the flower arrangements when she married her husband Henry Hager.
Looking back on her childhood, Jenna explained that their grandfather was ‘such a humble man’ and always in the moment with them that they ‘never really knew the gravity of what was happening.’
‘His role as a grandfather, as a father, as a husband—his family came before anything else,’ she said. ‘And in fact, when we got back to Texas, my sister thought all grandfathers had inaugurations (we were seven).
‘She thought it was something our country just did to celebrate grandparents and I think that really speaks to his humility and the fact that he really put us as his family first.’