FORT WAYNE  – Every Notre Dame fan fully understands that a book can dramatically influence the result of a contest.  And it pretty much is the same way that Ian Book’s pass did: You throw it out there and even if it’s not completely accurate, if those grabbing it use sharp elbows and muscle, it can be useful in determining the outcome.
 
Whether the recent book, “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff, is an early catch in a very high-scoring game, or a critical one at a pivotal time, cannot be determined at this point in the 2018 political cycle. The president and the administration have done everything possible to make sure it exceeds projected sales with everything from attempted legal suppression to Stephen Miller’s subtle criticisms (“grotesque work of fiction” and “garbage author of a garbage book”).
 
Given the fact that the author admits to inconsistencies and shaky accuracy himself, the president’s immediate tirade against Steve Bannon when his quotes were leaked in advance, is a tad confusing. Presidents don’t generally attack fiction books as if they were fact, though we all understand that we have a rather unconventional president. 

After all this kerfuffle passes (the word seems appropriate here), several of the things still standing may impact Hoosier politicians: The separation of Trump and Bannon and pro and con impacts on Vice President Mike Pence. 
 
The condescending line, “Pence is like the husband in Ozzie and Harriet, a nonevent,” which is supposed to sum up White House insiders’ views of Pence, is rather telling. If it isn’t clear by now, after decades in the business world and saturation coverage of his White House experience, that no one “controls” Donald Trump, but rather, people who praise him or fail to criticize him can actually guide the specifics of policies or even alter the direction over time. Vice President Pence has been a perfect fit.
 
In Howey Politics last February, I noted about Gov. Pence: “As an executive – whether you agree with him or not – he took years of advocating more purist conservative ideas and then applied his ideas to divisive issues including education and health care.”  
 
Hmmmm. HHS has Seema Verma, who helped re-make Medicaid in Indiana, running two of the largest programs in the nation (Medicare and Medicaid). Hoosier Alex Azar is the nominee to head the HHS. At Education, Betsy DeVos was long a school choice advocate. Indiana has the largest school choice program in the nation. The most stressed foreign policy position of the vice president was the constant defense of Israel.
 
On social policy, his greatest interest was not related to homosexuality but abortion.  

It is significant to note that, while Ozzie and Harriet TV series took place largely at the Nelsons’ home, and thus in Harriet’s domain, it was Ozzie the famous bandleader who negotiated and guided the details of the show.  While I doubt that is what Wolff meant to convey, but at least in areas of previous focus by Pence and ones in which Trump did not make dominant campaign themes, Pence is – ironically – like the real Ozzie.
 
The Republican primary for the United States Senate and fall face-off with incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly are clearly going to have their own sets of weekly twists and turns.  Because I believe that what will matter most are the image positioning of the candidates, solidified by ending ad blitz in the primary because people just aren’t paying attention yet (if ever), the Luke Messer problem of his Washington residency and his wife’s part-time $240,000 long-distance city attorney arrangement with Fishers are likely the most damaging and defining image. If he fights it off in a primary, then it will likely not serve Donnelly as well in the general election.
 
Todd Rokita has not built much upon his fast start. Mike Braun spent a lot of money to get to the point of when you ask someone who is running for Senate, they may say, “Oh yeah, I saw his ads.” That, however, is different than converting it into votes and his competition was not exactly inspired. Nevertheless, from late November to the start of the new year, Braun had the most impact.
 
There is no disagreement that Luke Messer is the favored establishment choice. Rokita’s only solution is to go more populist and pursue a more Trumpian approach. During the holiday lull, Congressman Messer likely pressed his advantage so presumably will have gained somewhat of a financial edge.  He has rolled out endorsements, and likely will continue to do so, which always gain desired local media attention. Primary voters in Indiana and elsewhere had not been looking favorably on endorsements by elected leaders, often lumping anyone they actually elected to do the jobs as having almost immediately become part the “establishment” (which appears to be definitional). There appears to be some comeback by the Republican establishment, but it is not clear that any “recovery” will translate as the politics heat up and more voters engage.
 
This weekend’s Congress of Counties straw poll should be a Messer convention. If he scores 80% of the Republican vote, it will be impressive, but 70% would show power among the local political establishments. Anything under would suggest that the “establishment” is more divided than thought.
 
Rokita will need to counter this with the aggressiveness for which he is known, and liked and disliked because of it. If he does not, Messer will gain significant momentum going into filing. Still, at the end of the day, Messer will need to attack Rokita to counter what is the logical Rokita major thrust that could be politically fatal. But Rokita has his own vulnerabilities, as does Donnelly. The campaign is just beginning. We obviously don’t know the unknown.
 
The reason “Fire and Fury” is so significant to our Senate race is this: If Bannon has truly imploded, and Trump has joined the establishment, suddenly Rokita and Braun are deprived of the two most identified populist leaders in the nation. Furthermore, Braun would most clearly take votes from the more Trumpian (compared to Messer) candidate Rokita as opposed to offering a “third way.” In other words, if Messer starts to pull ahead of Rokita, Braun becomes mostly a vote drain on Rokita. 
 
It is not clear to me that the Bannon implosion has impacted the views of the Trump core constituency at all. But if Trump is perceived to have moderated his positions and become Sen. McConnell’s pal, it is not clear that Congressman Rokita or others who aligned themselves with Trump can gin up enough of a crusade without him to defeat the more establishment candidates.
 
It is likely that we will see many more “revelations,” as well as soft money campaigns. There will be many twists and turns. But all that matters, in electoral terms, is who is on top on election night.

Souder is a former Indiana Republican congressman