Gaffe Track: Jeb's French Faux Pas

Mike Stone / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Jeb Bush, scion of the nation’s ancien regime.

The gaffe: During last week’s Republican debate, Bush tried to pile on to Marco Rubio for missing votes during his day job. “The Senate, what is it like a French work week? You get like three days where you have to show up?” Au contraire, scolded the French ambassador, who noted that France has a longer average work week than the Germans. Désolé, Bush said Tuesday, apologizing.

The defense: Zut alors! Who doesn’t love to bash the French?

Why it matters (or doesn’t): What better microcosm of Bush’s campaign manqué is there? He tries to attack a rival, gets steamrolled by the rival in the contretemps, and finally ends up apologizing to the butt of his joke. It’s a double own-goal—and his misunderstanding of continental labor is all the more embarrassing since Bush likes to present himself as the only bien-pensant foreign-policy candidate in the GOP field.

The moral: When your bon mot is so déclassé that you end up surrendering to the French, your campaign is truly not the crème de la crème.