In a rare joint interview for this week's cover story, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton discuss how they will handle the 2016 race, one that could very well feature Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush competing against each other for the White House. One thing's for sure about the upcoming election: it will be fun to watch the two alpha dogs of American politics try to muzzle themselves and sit on their paws.
Here's a peak at how the two baby boomer presidents view the world today and the upcoming campaign.
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton's plans for 2016
“I think most of my role will be giving advice if I’m asked for it," Clinton told TIME about his position in wife Hillary Clinton's campaign. "And I try not to even offer it at home unless I’m asked. But she’s been pretty good about asking every now and then.”
“Look, this is highly complicated,” Clinton says of the the political environment. “People don’t like negative, divisive environments. But they frequently reward them in elections.”
“It’s great that you can get 100 media outlets,” Clinton said, “but you have to devour each other and it puts even more pressure on people like you to turn us all into two-dimensional cartoons.”
“I can’t tell you who is going to win, but I can tell you what’s going to happen,” Bush says. “There’s kind of a general pattern. And there will be flash in the pans, there will be this crisis, there will be the funding thing. There will be all these things that happen, but eventually the person who can best lead their party will be nominated.”
Given the near certainty of Hillary’s bid, Bush's logic about his brother Jeb entering the campaign was mathematical: “What difference does it make,” he said at the time, “if the order is Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama/Clinton or it is Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama/Bush?”
Even if the nation longed for a fresh face, the fantastic plot twist of 2016 was that someone named Bush still stood a chance. To 43, at least, the downside of one dynasty canceled the downside of the other.
“I’m sure there will be moments where somebody says something about Jeb or somebody writes something about Jeb that will sting," Bush says. "I shouldn’t say I’m used to it, but the emotions I felt when our dad was criticized really got me for a while. … I think I’ll feel the same thing about Jeb. It’ll be interesting to see how affected I become.”
Bill Clinton defends the Clinton Foundation against critics
Clinton defends the model of their foundation, which builds coalitions to address challenges like maternal health, AIDS, and development and sustainability. If his post-presidency has a signature, it has been forging partnerships between private businesses and government officials to break down barriers to change.
“I think it’s crazy to keep all of these efforts siloed,” he says. “As long as you have total and full disclosure, and people can evaluate the impact of what you’ve done and the impact of the decisions you’ve made and how to do it, it’s still the right way to go.” Clinton continues, “Now I’ve been, as you know, criticized for it the last few months, but I still think we’re right.” The foundation says it has disclosed the names and aggregate amounts of most of its 300,000 plus donors since its founding in 2001; the identities of donors to a Canadian partnership with the foundation, how ever, remain secret.
Why Hillary Clinton thought she'd never be a politician
“I asked her to marry me three times before she said yes,” Clinton recalls, “and the first time I said, ‘I want you to marry me but you shouldn’t do it.’” He told her she was most talented pol of their generation, the most natural leader, with the best command of the issues, and rather than marry him, she should go to Chicago or New York and get into politics.
To which she responded: “Oh my God ... I’ll never run for office. I’m too aggressive, and nobody will ever vote for me.”
Clinton pauses, shakes his head. “True story.”
Will George W. Bush paint Bill Clinton?
Aides say Bush can break into discussion about “light values” at any moment, and his easels and paints have taken over a weight room at the family compound in Maine. He has done series on dogs and leaders and, more recently, his granddaughter. He admits that efforts to paint Laura have not been successful; asked if he has tried painting Clinton, Bush pretends to be serious. “I’ve tried and tried and tried.” Then he confesses: “No, I haven’t. I don’t want to ruin friendships.”
“He can’t get my bulbous nose right,” Clinton deadpans.