S.E. Cupp blows through a room like a woman on a mission.
Sporting her trademark thick, black glasses and donning knee-high gray boots, a gray blazer and lavender scarf, the conservative commentator bounds into an office at CNN’s Washington, D.C., bureau and settles comfortably into an arm chair. Cupp only has half-an-hour before her “hit with Wolf” — Blitzer that is — and not a minute is lost as she energetically bounces from topic to topic, discussing her thoughts on the future of the GOP and “Duck Dynasty.”
As she speaks in her signature raspy, soulful voice, it’s easy to understand how this classically trained ballerina with an Ivy League education has become a conservative superstar, one with gumption, guts, the undeniable ability to win over even the most doubting detractors, and, surprisingly, a Wassily Kandinsky tattoo.
Cupp’s impressive and diverse resume — a union of competing political forces — speaks for itself, but it’s her presence that will take you by surprise.
Wasting no time, Cupp excitedly launches into all things politics. She thought President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address seemed “a little bit angry,” Cupp said, and in terms of 2016, believes accomplished governors like Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are strong contenders for the Republican presidential nominee. In terms of claiming the youth vote, Cupp believes the GOP is “in a great position” to win over Millennials.
“There are a lot of areas where Republicans can take aspects of Millennials’ lives and really speak policy to them,” Cupp said. “It’s not just Marco Rubio going up and talking about Tupac Shakur. We have actual policies that can speak to Millennials, and it’s our job to put those in the forefront and tell them why our polices are more empowering than Democrats’ polices.”
Since exploding onto the scene in 2010 with a diary in The Daily Caller, a regular spot on Fox News and a book, “Why You’re Wrong About the Right,” already under her belt, Cupp has perfected the ability to make the Right fawn and the Left’s heads spin with rage.
Case in point: A 2012 Hustler magazine article posing the question, “What would S.E. Cupp look like with d **k in her mouth?”
The magazine article, which featured a fake photo of Cupp, hardly made a ripple in the mainstream media. And the conservative commentator wondered if the reaction would have been the same had the photo featured, say, First Lady Michelle Obama or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) instead. But when such a thing was done to a Republican, as Hustler proved, the silence was deafening.
“’S.E. Cupp is lovely, she’s smart, she’s fine, but she happens to be a crazy conservative who is pro-life and wants to defund Planned Parenthood, and for that she deserves a phallus in her mouth’ — that is essentially what they’re saying, and I have to commend that as being incredibly honest,” she told TheBlaze’s Glenn Beck at the time.
Not exactly the expected reaction for someone who had to make a telephone call to her parents warning them of the image.
But it’s that style of thinking that has catapulted Cupp to political stardom.
In 2011, Cupp was hired by Beck at GlennBeck.com. And since then, she has managed to straddle the line between the mainstream and conservative media.
Though at one point she said walking into Fox was like “slipping into a warm bath,” Cupp has appeared before target audiences on both the Left and the Right.
“I’ve always tried to live in both places,” she said, “because I don’t think it’s healthy to immerse yourself too heavily in one kind of ideological project.”
One would think the idea of Tucker Carlson, Cupp’s old boss, and MSNBC’s Krystal Ball together is enough to cause a nuclear combustion, but Cupp served as the middle (wo)man between the two.
The self-proclaimed atheist who boasts a master’s degree in religious studies from New York University at one point collected a check from Beck, but took a seat next to Touré each afternoon at 3 p.m. on MSNBC’s “The Cycle.”
And she’s just as comfortable before millions of viewers as she is with a 12-gauge on her shoulder. Cupp even keeps a mental bucket list of politicians she’d love to go hunting with: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to pheasant hunt, Ryan to bow hunt and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to bear hunt.
Though she’s already been bear hunting before, Cupp believes Palin could teach her a thing or two.
Still, don’t expect Cupp to cozy up to conservatives, despite the close proximity she longs to have to them in a duck blind.
Just before the American Conservative Union’s 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of Republicans, Cupp flipped the organization the proverbial bird after it denied GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans access.
The CNN host, who supports gay marriage, decided if the two groups couldn’t attend the conference, neither would she — a decision she stands by.
“These are the people — I mean if you look at groups like GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans — these are people who work doubly hard against much bigger obstacles to fight for conservative values,” Cupp said. “These are the very people we should be celebrating and thanking for lending their voice to conservative issues. Instead, the GOP has tried to sideline those people.”
In addition to her support for gay marriage, Cupp maintains a friendly relationship with the Robertson family of the hit A&E show “Duck Dynasty.” Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family, came under fire last year for comments he made about gay marriage, comparing it to bestiality.
Cupp’s taking to the family, coupled with her support for LGBT rights, make for an odd juxtaposition.
“What Phil said I certainly don’t agree with, but having watched the show for quite some time and knowing the family, I’m shocked that people were shocked,” she said. “This is a clearly very religiously demonstrative family. They end every show with a prayer. … So the idea that someone like that is going to have a nuanced approach to gay marriage I think is a little silly.”
Cupp’s early days are rooted in journalism, working first as an assistant editor for Drinks.com after graduating from Cornell and then moving to The New York Times as a reference writer. Opinion writing, though, has always been at the crux of her career.
“I like actually coming up with an interesting thing to say that I don’t think has been said before in that way,” she said. “I think that’s interesting because I think the point of television, the point of news, the point of media, is to showcase a panoply of ideas.”
But you won’t find her regurgitating the GOP’s talking points or writing tweet-worthy headlines just to get clicks.
“Just finding ways to be not provocative for provocative’s sake, but to show an idea that hasn’t been shown before, I mean that’s interesting to me,” Cupp said. “I don’t like mimicking people. I don’t like repeating talking points. I don’t like arguing with people just to argue. I like actually coming up with an interesting thing to say that I don’t think has been said before in that way.”
Now at CNN, Cupp represents one-half of the conservative duo on “Crossfire.” Long-time followers of the show, though, will find the “Crossfire” of Gen Y hardly mirrors that of the program’s Pat Buchanan era.
And there are few similarities between the CNN program and debates orchestrated on networks like Fox and MSNBC, which Cupp calls “rigged.”
“You already have a sense of who’s going to win because they brought in a token or a fake liberal or conservative to play the foil,” she said. “Everyone at home is rooting for one side. I don’t know that people learn anything from that. This is a real debate.”
Cupp and her co-hosts, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and past Obama advisers Van Jones and Stephanie Cutter, facilitate debate off-screen, too, engaging in conversations with viewers at home.
The “Crossfire” following has more than quadrupled since its launch in September, and the show trends domestically on Twitter. Cupp, her co-hosts and their guests answer questions across social media platforms to create a secondary debate off-set and online.
While Cupp can be tough on her “Crossfire” guests, it’s what happens when the cameras turn off that proves the pundit’s chops and undeniable charm.
“That’s when it gets really fascinating,” Jones said via email. “Even when S.E. doesn’t win the argument — which is rare — she can still win the crowd.”
Jones recalls appearing at a Democratic fundraiser with the party’s most important donors and activists.
“Within five minutes, they were putty in her hands,” he said. “They didn’t agree with her, but they all liked her — a lot. She was saying things about abortion and other topics that were the opposite of their worldviews. But they kept listening. She presented her case in a way that they couldn’t simply stick their fingers in their ears and stick out their tongues.”
And days later, he said, they were still “buzzing about her.”
In her short 35 years of life, Cupp has made waves in both conservative circles and the mainstream media, transcending party lines in the name of political debate.
Conservatives are lucky to have Cupp on their side, Jones said, as she’s “one of a kind.”
“And, for Democrats’ sake, I hope it stays that way.”