New Details About The Feud Between Nancy Reagan And Barbara Bush

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nancy reagan barbara bush feud

When it comes to America's great politicians, we are used to hearing all about the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that takes place among the great men who founded this country. In fact, if you read most history books it's easy to believe that men and men alone were responsible for making our great nation what it is today. 

The truth is that women, in particular, the First Ladies, have taken a serious role with the policy and their presence. But things happening behind the scenes are always a little bit more dramatic, a little bit more scandalous than most of the public knows. For example, in a new book about former First Lady Barbara Bush, her lifelong feud with Nancy Reagan is brought back into the light. Here's what you need to know about their shared disdain. 

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1. The Dinner For Diana 

A new book about former First Lady Barbara alleges she was in a feud with Nancy Reagan.

When Ronald and Nancy Reagan were heading up the Whitehouse, they had a major dinner in 1985 to celebrate the visit of Prince Charles and his then-wife Princess Diana. It's an event that lives on in the annals of history. You've seen pictures, most likely, of John Travolta twirling Diana about the dance floor like something out of a fairytale. 

But it wasn't all starlight and smiles. Along with introducing America to Diana and her charms, the public also got a sniff of a major feud taking place right on Pennsylvania Avenue. You see, there were two people missing from the big party, and their absence was noted. It appears that when Nancy Reagan learned the Bushes were going to be invited, she scratched their names off the guest list! And why? Because she was nursing hatred and rancor in her for Barbara. 

2. Barbara Bush Blamed Nancy 

Susan Page's 'The Matriarch' goes into Barbara Bush's life.

This feud was brought back into the public consciousness thanks to a new book about Bush by Susan Page’s The Matriarch. While the book goes into great detail it refuses to explicitly point the finger of blame over the lack of invitation to the Bushes to Nancy, saying instead, “the universe of those empowered to do so wouldn’t extend much past the president and the First Lady."

Barbara Bush, however, never a woman to mince words, told it exactly as she saw it. Bush sat for several interviews with Susan Page for her book, and during one of those sessions, the infamous invitation diss came up and Barbara had something to say about it. “She hated us,” Bush said. “I don’t know why, but she really hated us.”

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3. How Nancy Reagan Really Felt 

Barbara Bush believed the Reagans didn't like them.

"Eight years of residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Reagans invited the Bushes upstairs to the private family quarters of the White House only a time or two before Bush had been elected to the presidency himself. They never invited the Bushes to accompany them to Camp David,” Page writes.

4. What Ronald Reagan Thought

Ronald Reagan wasn't sure why the women were feuding.

Page wasn't the only person to ever ask about the strained dynamic that seemed to exist between the two. Apparently, those closest to her believed that most of the rancor was coming from Nancy, and not Barbara who was simply baffled by Nancy's continued slights. When Ronald Reagan himself was asked why Nancy didn't like Barbara, all he said was, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

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Barbara's memoirist had a different explanation, or, you know, any explanation at all: “The two women were so alike and so different. … Somehow, too, each managed to feel superior to, and also threatened by, the other.” In case you're a little rusty when it comes to your US History, Bush challenged Reagan when he ran for his seat in 1980. He didn't win, but it didn't earn him or Barbara any good feelings from the Bushes. 

5. Did Barbara Hate Nancy Too?

Barbara Bush wrote about Nancy Reagan in her diary.

There is much more recorded about Nancy's hatred for Barbara than there is the other way around. Some speculate that Nancy, who was very image conscious, was threatened by Barbara's impressive familial ties which went back to the Mayflower. “Nancy was always viewed as a social-climbing parvenu,” PEOPLE reported in 1990.

“Nancy was disdainful of Barbara for her sturdy figure, her matronly clothes, and her blunt manner,” Page writes. Barbara, on the other hand, didn't seem to hate Nancy, but she certainly wasn't her sort of woman. “Barbara was disdainful of Nancy as brittle and shallow, and as a mother who had failed to forge a close or even functional relationship with her children," writes Page. 

Barbara, it is said, did admire Nancy's slim figure and her taste in clothing. She was also touched by the bond shared between the Reagans, something she spoke about in her comments about the death of Nancy when she was passed at 94 in March of 2016. “Nancy Reagan was totally devoted to President Reagan, and we take comfort that they will be reunited once more," she said. 

Barbara's diary contains a more complicated relationship that speaks to just how badly Nancy Reagan treated her. Prior to George H. W. Bush taking office, Barbara wrote about the new incoming second lady: “I will not treat her [Marilyn Quayle] as Nancy Reagan has treated me."

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr