By Judy Kurtz
It’s tough to know where to start with S.E. Cupp.
First, there’s the whole name thing. “Everyone I’ve met since 2000 call me S.E.,” Cupp, born Sarah Elizabeth, tells ITK cheerfully in a phone interview.
“I’ve watched the show since its inception. Got to know the guys, actually got to go hunting with the Robertsons and stay on their property and go duck hunting with them,” she exclaims.
And soon, talk turns to the unusual ink she sports on her left leg bearing the signature of a Russian abstract painter.
“I’m a huge art lover … I actually have a [Vassily] Kandinsky tattoo.”
There’s no debating that the panelist on CNN’s “Crossfire” isn’t a cookie cutter politico.
Cupp, along with former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, serves as one of two right-leaning moderators on the revamped version of the cable channel’s political debate show. She left a co-hosting gig at MSNBC’s “The Cycle” earlier this year to take on the role at the fiery CNN program when it premiered back in September. Former Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and activist Van Jones are the liberal panelists
She contends she doesn’t get nervous to confront guests, just “excited to pick at their brain.”
“It’s pretty tough to intimidate me,” the 34-year-old bespectacled host says, before adding with a slight laugh, “And that’s probably at my own peril sometimes.”
A gay marriage supporter and an atheist, Cupp made headlines earlier this year when she announced she wouldn’t be attending the annual Conservative Political Action Conference because of its exclusion of gay Republican organizations.
Asked about charges that she’s “not conservative enough,” Cupp explains, “There’s [being called] the ‘right wing nutjob’ from folks on the left for whom, you know, I’m a fanatic, and then yeah I guess from the far right — maybe because I’m not religious and because I support gay marriage — somehow I can’t be a trustworthy conservative.”
She dares critics, saying, “I put my conservatism up against anyone. I’m a pretty staunch conservative, with pretty rabid ideas about conservative values … Questioning my conservatism doesn’t seem like a particularly interesting project or exercise.”
The California native and author admits she gets “butterflies” around certain “Crossfire” guests, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “There’s sort of a feeling of awe because he’s incredibly bright and I feel lucky to have someone like him in the party,” she explains.
She’s itching to get an unlikely duo on the CNN series, saying her dream “Crossfire” pairing would be “Duck Dynasty’s” Willie Robertson — who was at one point said to be flirting with a House run — and “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin. Cupp is a consultant on Sorkin’s HBO series, “The Newsroom.”
“Aaron is someone who, in a very smart way, has defended Hollywood as a place where culture can be good and inspiring, “ she says of Sorkin.
“And I think Willie Robertson has proven that there’s a culture in the middle of the country in everyday America that people want celebrated as well. So I think it would be really interesting to have those two talk about ways in which culture and politics collide.”
While she loves political debate, the TV personality has no intention of ever throwing her hat, or glasses, in a political race. When asked if she would ever consider getting into politics, she fires back, “No way — 100 percent no. First of all, I like being able to speak freely. And I think when you’re an elected official, rightly so, you should watch what you say.”
When she’s not chatting politics, Cupp — a childhood ballet dancer — is a hunting and fishing fan. She married John Goodwin, a former chief of staff to Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), in a ceremony last month.
As for her signature accessory, the glasses aren’t cosmetic — Cupp says she became nearsighted after staring at a computer for hours on end while working at The New York Times.
She’s virtually unrecognizable without her eyewear, saying, “If I want to go in disguise somewhere, I just take them off or I put on sunglasses. It’s funny, when I’m in airports and I’m walking around, maybe feeling a little tired in my sweatpants and not wanting to talk to folks, I just put on my sunglasses. And usually it works every time.”