Did 'October Surprises' Go Bust?

The Barbershop guys talk "October surprises" — both in the presidential election and the sports arena. Guest host Celeste Headlee checks in with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, R. Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans, and ESPN magazine's Pablo Torre.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and R. Clarke Cooper, Army Reserve captain and executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. That's a group that...

JIMI IZRAEL: Coop.

R. CLARKE COOPER: Hoo-ah.

HEADLEE: ...advocates for LGBT issues within the Republican Party. They're all here with me in Washington, as you can hear. Joining us from New York City, Pablo Torre, a senior writer for ESPN the magazine, and ESPN.com.

Take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: P Dog. Thank you, C. Headlee. Fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, Eid Mubarak.

COOPER: Happy Friday.

IZRAEL: A train up in here.

IFTIKHAR: What's happening?

IZRAEL: My dude. Well, you know what? Let's get things started. The presidential election is just days away and some folks think it's time for an October surprise. Like, what could that be? Some undercover news about the candidates, you know, that could possibly shake up the race.

Now, mogul Donald Trump - Donald the flip Trump was talking all week about some blockbuster news about President Obama, but what actually broke is more of a bust. We've got some tape. Yeah, Celeste?

HEADLEE: That's right. On Wednesday, Trump offered the president a deal to get him to release some more personal documents. Let's take a listen to a clip from his YouTube video.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP: All he has to do to get $5 million for a charity or charities of his choice is get his colleges to immediately give his applications and records and also to release his passport records. When he does that to my satisfaction, if it's complete, this check is delivered immediately.

IZRAEL: Wow. Wait a second. Isn't that the - isn't that the other plot to "Skyfall?" I mean, it has kind of a bootleg Bond thing going on. Thanks for that, I guess, you know, but - you know, President Obama did talk about Donald Trump's offer. You know, here's what he had to say on the "The Tonight Show" when Jay Leno asked what Trump had against him.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya.

JAY LENO: Yeah.

OBAMA: And, you know, we...

LENO: Got to give you - I got to give you that one.

OBAMA: We - we had, you know, constant run-ins on the...

LENO: Yeah.

OBAMA: ...soccer field and...

LENO: Yeah.

OBAMA: You know, he wasn't very good and...

LENO: Right, right.

OBAMA: ...resented it.

LENO: Yeah, yeah.

OBAMA: You know.

LENO: Have you...

OBAMA: When we finally moved to America, I thought it'd be over.

IZRAEL: Wow. Oh, wow.

IFTIKHAR: I hope he dropped his microphone after saying that.

IZRAEL: President Obama grew a sense of humor. How about that? Off-script. R. Cooper, Captain Coop.

COOPER: What's up?

IZRAEL: Now, you know, if you're on team Romney, do you want this guy out front, you know, or do you want Trump to kind of play the back of the bench?

COOPER: Well, you know, Trump - a better offer would have been salary for life, frankly. You heard that legal counsel caveat of, to my satisfaction, so I'm sure - I'm sure President Obama's like, hmm, to my satisfaction. That may be a drawn out payment, so a better offer would have been salary for life, frankly. Five million - not to say that that's a rounding error in Washington, but if you're a president and you're dealing with $16 trillion in debt, $5 million is not a lot of money to offer, frankly.

IZRAEL: Right.

COOPER: It should have been a higher amount and maybe he might have taken up on the offer there.

IZRAEL: I love Donald Trump as, like, a super villain. He really belongs in a comic book, you know, with the hair and the mouth and the bad suits.

IFTIKHAR: And the hairless cat.

IZRAEL: And the hairless cat. Yeah. Arsalan Iftikhar, you know, President Obama's fundraising just crossed the $1 billion with a B mark. Does that make it easier for him to kind of brush this Trump thing off his shoulder?

IFTIKHAR: No. I mean, I think, at the end of the day, you know, with all - virtually all public opinion polls showing that it's, you know, pretty much a dead heat, I think it's all going to be about voter turnout and, you know, I think that, you know, no matter how much money you raise, I think it's going to be about the ground mobilization game in terms of, you know, how you're able to get out your voters on election day because you could have all the money in the world and if your people don't turn out, you're not going to win.

IZRAEL: You know, as it turns out, the whole surprise thing's being played on both sides of the aisle. Lawyer and Democratic donor Gloria Allred - you know, she's hyping some kind of anti-Romney surprise of her own.

Celeste, what have you got on that?

HEADLEE: OK. So Gloria Allred is representing Maureen Sullivan Stemberg.

IZRAEL: OK.

HEADLEE: She's the ex-wife of the founder of Staples, Tom Stemberg. The controversy here is over some testimony Mitt Romney gave in 1991 and he was testifying in court proceedings concerning their divorce settlement. Romney is accused of minimizing the potential value of Staples' stock in order to keep the settlement costs low for the husband, at the same time that he was telling investors that Staples was going to be a big powerhouse company.

IZRAEL: Wait. That's illegal? One of my homeboys did that about my comic book collection in my divorce settlement.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, it's bros before depos, man.

HEADLEE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: You know, but Pablo Torre...

PABLO TORRE SPORTS JOURNALIST: Yes.

IZRAEL: You know, you're our sports reporter. If this is a cheap - is it some kind of cheap shot or part of the game?

JOURNALIST: It's part of the game. I mean this is...

IZRAEL: OK.

JOURNALIST: ...one of the many things to come out. And listen, remember Romney is a businessman. We want the guy who's going to kind of shade the numbers on America's behalf, right? I mean this is part of his skill set, allegedly. But look, Gloria Allred, Donald Trump, both people who know how to get attention very well. Donald Trump to me, I mean just to rewind for a little bit, there is a term for people like them on the Internet, and they're called trolls.

IZRAEL: Mm.

JOURNALIST: I mean as soon as they get a response, getting Obama to talk about him on Jay Leno, and the same goes for Gloria Allred in some sense in terms of drumming up PR. This is what they do well. And being in the conversation is exactly what they want, regardless of the outcome of whatever happens here.

R.CLARKE COOPER: And speaking of Internet trolls...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Coop.

COOPER: Yeah, I mean, you know we already know that this is very well-known. On Huffington Post, you know, a lot of us are contributors on that show to HuffPo. But Maureen Sullivan is known as a super user. So you want to talk about Internet trolls, I mean so...

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: ...here you've got President Obama's gal pal, Gloria Allred, she's out there doing her thing, which she's very well known for getting attention. But what people may not know is that Sullivan, you know, she actually was in violation of this gag order, and she talked about her divorce and divorce records on HuffPo. She's, again, a super commenter. And the other thing that hasn't come out, which is a story in development, because screen caps are a beautiful thing...

IZRAEL: Dantan.

COOPER: Dantandan. Yeah. Her anti-Mormon bigotry that's out there. So, you know, careful where you go. And I don't know if this is the buyer beware, Gloria...

HEADLEE: Well, let me just like push back a little bit because Romney actually accepted and seemed to welcome an endorsement from Trump. Obama has not done the same with Gloria Allred.

COOPER: Well, let's find out what he's done with Gloria Allred. But I would say this, from October...

HEADLEE: He hasn't accepted her endorsement.

COOPER: So...

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Is she - does she endorse?

HEADLEE: She does not do campaign fundraisers with him.

COOPER: She also didn't run - she also wasn't an early primary. Trump, regardless of how people feel in or outside the conservative movement, he was somebody who did throw his hat in the ring in an earlier stage. So we're talking about a different, different - this is apples and oranges.

HEADLEE: Fair enough. Fair enough.

COOPER: But, what I would say about both of them is as far as October surprises are for U.S. politics, these are both kind of really lame, in the sense that...

HEADLEE: That's true.

COOPER: ...none of these are really tied to policy. In a sense, these are more, these are really on a personal nature. And October surprises historically usually have something to do with what's happening in the country and in the world as to governance. Neither of these follow that pattern.

HEADLEE: Well, let me just remind you. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. You are listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Log Cabin Republican executive director, R. Clarke Cooper, who you just heard, and sportswriter Pablo Torre.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: You know what? Speaking of endorsements, Coop...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...you know, we got one of the newsmakers right here. The gay rights group, the Log Cabin Republicans, finally, finally endorsed Romney this week. As if they had a choice, right?

COOPER: Well, of course, we had a choice. Everyone has a choice. It's a free country. But, yeah...

IZRAEL: I've heard.

COOPER: We are a part of the party and that's something I think sometimes people forget is that yeah, we do advocate for equality measures. You know, part of our legislative portfolio is the repeal of DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act. This is something that Governor Romney and I don't see eye-to-eye. But there are other Republicans who are part of the Romney team that are in the same camp we are. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the most senior Republican woman in Congress, is an advocate for the repeal of DOMA. She's the first Republican on that bill. Ted Olson, who I served with in the Bush administration, he was our solicitor general, he is the lead attorney on the DOMA cases that are out there in the federal system. And also, you know, five out of the eight federal rulings that occurred came from Republican appointed judges. So...

IZRAEL: So...

COOPER: ...it's safe to say is there difference of opinion on that issue? Absolutely. But when it comes to the future of the country, economic growth and having opportunities for job creation, we are all on the same page with Governor Romney. And we do believe that he is the best as far as steering the right course for the nation's future.

IZRAEL: So you're betting that, you know, the people around him will influence his opinion down the road about certain - about the core issues that matter to you.

COOPER: Well, that would be inclusive of everybody...

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

COOPER: ...everyone who's involved in the process. Again, it's not just, you know, Log Cabin isn't just folks who are out in the field. This includes members of Congress that we work with. This includes leadership that is on our side. And frankly, when it comes to Governor Romney, I mean this is an individual who we've had a dialogue with, as well as his team. He is absolutely against discrimination in the workplace. He's been very clear that as president, as commander-in-chief, he would not roll back open service. This is - these are things where he's been ahead on. And when it comes to hospital visitation, there was this whole kerfuffle about rolling that back. He doesn't plan to do that. So this is somebody we can work with. And again, issue is economy. That is the issue number one is the economy.

HEADLEE: Right.

COOPER: And this is what; this is what concerns all Americans, regardless of their orientation.

IZRAEL: But isn't he against same-sex marriage, bro? I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I mean...

HEADLEE: Yeah. But also, we've got Pablo Torre on the line. And Pablo...

IZRAEL: I'm sorry.

HEADLEE: I noted Pablo, that you said this endorsement from R. Clarke Cooper's group is, I'm going to quote here, "disappointing fundamentally." Why do you say that?

JOURNALIST: Well, it's disappointing just because if there's going to be a voice to push - again, R., he knows better than I do the exact nuances of his position, believe me. But what I would say is if you're looking for pushback here, I mean where the Republican Party are you going to get a stand that says, you know, this is a make or break issue. And I think for a lot of people - and obviously I'm not speaking for everybody here - but friends of mine who are conservative and gay, you know, I think there's among them a deep existential crisis. And I think there is a very earnest, sincere desire to see this become a make or break issue because what incentive does the Republican Party have to change if...

IZRAEL: Right.

JOURNALIST: ...within its own party you're going to get this kind of support?

IZRAEL: I would've liked to very much you guys had not given an endorsement. Just call him on the carpet. Say this - what are you doing?

COOPER: Well, we did. We talked - I mean this, like I said, there's no secrets here. The governor knows exactly where we stand. But, as I said, we are advancing these issues. And what some people call it the equality portfolio...

HEADLEE: Yeah.

COOPER: ...the freedom portfolio, whatever you want to call it...

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

COOPER: ... repeal of "don't ask don't tell," that happened because of Republican support and it was drafted, you know, Susan Collins drafted the bill that Obama signed.

HEADLEE: But it's a rough thing. But let's talk about another endorsement, which is was...

COOPER: Right.

HEADLEE: ...who actually chose, made another choice.

IZRAEL: Right. Colin Powell.

HEADLEE: Right.

IZRAEL: He's back on Team Obama.

IFTIKHAR: Yup.

IZRAEL: He took his time in repeating his 2008 endorsement of Obama, even though Powell is a high-profile Republican. I don't know, Celeste. I don't know.

HEADLEE: Well, it turned into a bigger story because former New Hampshire Governor, and Romney surrogate, John Sununu, said Powell only endorsed Obama because he's African-American. Let's take a listen to him speaking on CNN.

JOHN SUNUNU: Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States; I applaud Colin for standing with him.

HEADLEE: And I will mention, Sununu did walk back those comments very, very quickly.

IZRAEL: Sure he did. Sure he did.

IFTIKHAR: I don't care if he ran it back. This is...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: This - I don't care if he ran it back. John Sununu gets this week's redonkulous award for saying that...

HEADLEE: There's a redonkulous award?

IZRAEL: There is. Yeah.

JOURNALIST: There are so many redonkulous awards.

(LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: You got to be a regular here. But what really, you know, bothers me again here, you know, here you have a former Secretary of State for a Republican president endorsing Barack Obama. And, you know, here you have another high-level Republican operative saying that he only endorsed him because he's black, because we all know when a white man endorses a white man for president it's because he's qualified. But when a black man endorses a black man, it's just because he's black.

And, you know, these dog whistle politics, you know, we recently saw it with Sarah Palin referring to, you know, President Obama shucking and jiving, the fact that over 20 percent of registered Republicans around the country still believe that President Obama is somehow a Muslim, you know, calling him a socialist. I don't - I haven't heard many people call Joe Biden a socialist. You know, these dog whistle politics, trying to otherize Barack Obama during this presidential election really, really need to be called out.

IZRAEL: I don't hear the dog whistle. But it...

IFTIKHAR: It's a blaring siren.

IZRAEL: Well, no, no, no.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I think it's a, I think it's pretty blatant. Yeah. That's what I'm getting at. Yeah, I mean they are definitely otherizing him. There's no two ways about it. You know, and I - Sununu...

IFTIKHAR: But people of color understand that. But I think that a vast majority of the American population might not understand, you know...

IZRAEL: You don't give white people any credit, do you, bro?

IFTIKHAR: I don't know.

IZRAEL: You're on record now.

(LAUGHTER)

JOURNALIST: Arsalan Iftikhar does not care about white people. There you go. You going to pull a Kanye on me, dog?

(LAUGHTER)

JOURNALIST: I just Kanye'd you, man.

HEADLEE: I'm going to let you finish. I'm going to let you finish.

IZRAEL: All right. You know what? See, you know, I really admire...

COOPER: Well played.

IZRAEL: ...Sununu's candor. You know, he spoke an ugly truth, you know, he said something a lot of white people are thinking. I'm sorry. You know, and what, he's old. He gets a pass, you know, I mean and he hasn't been a newsmaker forever so he figures, you know, he's fresh from the bar, you know...

HEADLEE: What, you're calling him a troll? He was trolling?

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I would never say that.

JOURNALIST: Of the highest order.

IZRAEL: I would never say that. But like I said, sometimes you tell an ugly truth and you catch a little spice for it.

IFTIKHAR: And remember, he is Romney's national co-chair.

HEADLEE: All right.

IFTIKHAR: This is not just some, you know, schlub off the street.

HEADLEE: Right.

IZRAEL: Right.

HEADLEE: He's not a schlub off the street what is a troll. OK. I'm getting at here. But we've got a few minutes left and because I'm a Detroit Tigers lover, we've got to move on to the World Series.

IFTIKHAR: My condolences.

HEADLEE: It began this week. Game one very rough for star pitcher Justin Verlander. He's with the Detroit Tigers, of course. He wasn't performing very well earlier in the game. His pitching coach - I don't know if you, you guys must've seen this. He marched on the field and yelled at Verlander. The Tigers then lost to the San Francisco Giants. They lost again last night. Pablo, I got to go to you. You're a senior writer for ESPN magazine. Do you think this coach is actually going to be remembered? Is this what he's going to be remembered for, is going out and throwing off Justin Verlander?

JOURNALIST: He needed a bailout. Detroit needs a bailout on this scenario. And, yeah, I mean look, Justin Verlander, best pitcher in the world, but what we're realizing is that San Francisco is one of the great baseball cities and probably doesn't get enough credit for that.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

JOURNALIST: They won the World Series in 2010. They're in it again. They weren't expected to do this. They were fighting elimination games for like six straight games in the playoffs and now they suddenly become this dominant power. Pablo Sandoval winning the Pablo power rankings for the week.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. That was amazing.

JOURNALIST: Three home runs in the first game and is, you know, and this is a team that doesn't really have the star power that it used to. But what they do is they put the ball in play. They play good defense. And they have a park full of these fans which are rabid. And it's an incredibly, incredibly impressive thing for them to pull this off at this point, 2-0 so far.

COOPER: And doing it in the rain.

JOURNALIST: And the rain.

COOPER: If you're talking about a team that can play right in the rain and the San Francisco.

JOURNALIST: Exactly.

IZRAEL: Ooh. Coop called it.

HEADLEE: Am I the only person in this table that thinks the Tigers are going to win? Go ahead, Cooper.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: No. I mean they - someone can say home-field advantage. But you think about like saying football, when the Denver Broncos, their lungs are ginormous up there in the Mile High city.

JOURNALIST: The altitude.

COOPER: San Francisco can play in mud. I mean...

HEADLEE: Yeah, it's true.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

COOPER: I mean it's almost like a combination of rugby and baseball when they are out there.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and also, you know, when people talk about, you know, the pitching coach throwing Justin Verlander off, I'm sorry, I don't buy that for a minute. I mean when you're supposedly one of the best in the league at your position, you know, it's like LeBron James saying oh, well, you know, Erik Spoelstra threw me off and that's why we didn't win the NBA championship.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Wah. Wah. That's what you're saying.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Pretty much.

HEADLEE: Jimi, you got anything to add here?

IZRAEL: You know, I think they should fire this coach and get the guy from "Hardcore Pawn," that does that show.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. I think they should let him coach.

HEADLEE: Oh, my good lord.

IZRAEL: 'Cause...

JOURNALIST: Is that the best Detroit reference you have?

IZRAEL: That's what I'm going with, bro. That's what I'm going with.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Oh, my God. All right, guys. Let's - Jimi Izrael, writer and culture critic, also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College, Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com, R. Clarke Cooper is an Army Reserve captain and executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Pablo Torre, senior writer for ESPN the magazine and ESPN.com.

Thanks, guys.

IFTIKHAR: Eid Mubarak.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

COOPER: Vote Romney.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop on the radio, look for the Barbershop podcast. It's in the iTunes store at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel will be back to talk more on Monday.

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