Gaffe Track: You Say Malia, Jeb Says Malala, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Mike Segar / 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

The gaffe: Bush was speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, and wanted to explain how cultural differences could hinder communication with China. He noted that Michelle Obama had skipped a summer in Palm Springs, offending some Chinese people. “Every meeting I had in Beijing started out for the first 10 minutes lambasting me about why it was, as an American, why it was that we insulted China. And I’m thinking, you know what, it could be that Mrs. Obama was worried about the science project of Malala.” The president’s daughter is Malia. Malala is a Nobel laureate.

The defense: Jeb’s heart was clearly in the right place here. (Incredibly, this is the second Gaffe Track cameo for the Pakistani teen activist; in November Marco Rubio rather curiously said he wanted to have a beer with her.)

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Jeb is struggling to emulate his father and brother’s examples and win the Republican nomination, but it seems like he did inherit the Bush family proclivity for the verbal gaffe. But really, is “Malia” such a hard name? This hardly suggests Bush is laser-focused and sharp as he attempts a late-game comeback in the GOP primary.

The lesson: You can fool some of the voters some of the time, but you can’t fool Malala people all the time.