The Republicans have unleashed a secret weapon on the campaign trail this month. Call it an October surprise or, in my judgment, an October folly.
Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, is out on the hustings, speaking and raising money for a party in deep doo-doo, as George H. W. Bush would term it.
No other press secretary in any administration of either party has done this before. Some have been partisan from the podium, but none have left their jobs in Washington to help other politicians in trouble.
Snow, a graduate of the right-wing Washington Times editorial page and the equally right Fox TV network whose "fair and balanced" coverage is a joke, has been on the job only five months. As he talks about his boss, the president, you would think they have been chums since childhood. Bush can do no wrong, in Snow's blurred eyes.
At a fundraiser in Youngstown, Ohio, Snow said Bush's actions ignored the dismal polls. Well, he may when the numbers are bad. But the Karl Rove-directed operation spews out the numbers when they are good.
Snow talked in glowing terms about the burgeoning democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. What democracies? There is a sectarian war blazing in Iraq, and the Taliban have reorganized assaults in Afghanistan. Our troops are in the thick of it.
Another whopper from Snow was that seeking the truth every day was the mission of the White House and that Bush was "leveling with the American people." This is contradicted in totality in Bob Woodward's new book State of Denial, in which the administration team seems to be engaged in a constant whirlwind of double talk or even dissembling on the extended war.
Give Snow this much. His work in television and talk-show performances has provided him a glib presence, unlike the deer-in-the-headlights manner of his hapless predecessor, Scott McClellan. He enjoys the jousting with reporters.
But that glibness comes at a price. If Snow continues to campaign in this fashion for the next few weeks, he should resign and run for elective office in 2008. For the regulars covering the White House, he should lose respect with his newly found task. He may win favor with Bush, but it is a long distance from his job description.
Forget that the legal branch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sees nothing illegal in Snow's venture. There should be an appearance of propriety.
And in this case, it doesn't pass the smell test.