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Two with Mass. roots join ‘Crossfire’ revival

CNN’s new “Crossfire” panel is (from left): Van Jones, Stephanie Cutter, Newt Gingrich, and S.E. Cupp.
CNN’s new “Crossfire” panel is (from left): Van Jones, Stephanie Cutter, Newt Gingrich, and S.E. Cupp.Mark Hill\CNN

Last night, after an eight-year hiatus, the political debate program, “Crossfire,” returned to CNN, and two of its four hosts, Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp, have deep Massachusetts roots. Cutter joins Van Jones from the left, politically speaking, and Cupp joins Newt Gingrich, on the right. The program runs Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m.

The Globe spoke recently by telephone with Cutter and Cupp, who are based in Washington, D.C.

S.E. Cupp

S.E. Cupp working in her New York apartment earlier this year.
S.E. Cupp working in her New York apartment earlier this year.The New York Times

Graduated from the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsborough and Cornell University, and received a master’s degree in religious studies from NYU. She writes a weekly column for the New York Daily News, is a contributing editor at Townhall Magazine and cohosts MSNBC’s “The Cycle.” She wrote “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity” and coauthored “Why You’re Wrong About the Right.” She is 34.


Q. Tell me about your Massachusetts roots.

A. My family moved to Andover when I was 6. I spent the first through the fourth grade there, and then I came back for half of the eighth grade and all of high school. My dad worked for Boise Cascade for 40 years and we moved a lot. Andover is the longest I’ve lived anywhere.

Q. How can you grow up in Massachusetts and be a conservative?

A. I know, it’s bizarre, growing up in Massachusetts, going to Cornell and NYU, and living in Manhattan for eight years. I was never surrounded by conservatives, ever.

Q. Were your parents conservative?

A. I didn’t grow up political. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was Republican until I “came out” as Republican in college. I thought I’d disappoint my parents but they said, “We’re Republicans, too.” The only political memories I have of childhood were sitting on the living room floor with my parents watching the Gulf War coverage, and the second was the [Monica] Lewinsky affair.

Q. What was it in college that made you politically aware?

A. When I was a freshman, I went to a debate, and it happened to be on affirmative action. The professor on the right was Jeremy Rabkin, and he was arguing against it. I remember at 18 thinking, he is making a lot of sense on this. I started to investigate different schools of political thought and where I thought I fit in. I was almost down the line a staunch conservative.

Q. What else shaped that?

A. In 2000, I graduated from college and moved to Manhattan and the next year, 9/11 happened practically outside my window. After September 11, I thought it was not enough just to have certain beliefs. If you’re not going to do anything, it’s just a waste. I considered enlisting (in the military), joining the New York Police Department and joining the foreign service. Being their only daughter, this was not appealing to my parents at all. The only thing I know how to do is write. We (with coauthor Brett Joshpe) wrote, “Why You’re Wrong About the Right,” and everything snowballed from that.

Q. Have you ever voted for a Democrat?

The 1997 “Crossfire” panel (from left): Bill Press, Geraldine Ferraro, John Sununu, and Pat Buchanan.
The 1997 “Crossfire” panel (from left): Bill Press, Geraldine Ferraro, John Sununu, and Pat Buchanan.Andrew Eccles/CNN

A. I don’t think so.

Q. Tell me about dancing with the
Boston Ballet.

A. I was a student at the Boston Ballet from the eighth grade until senior year. Every Christmas, I was in the “Nutcracker” production. My holidays were all built around my “Nutcracker” practices and I danced over the summer. Boston Ballet was an incredible place. Most of my childhood memories are from the Boston Ballet.

Q. You’re a consultant for the HBO
series “The Newsroom.” How did that happen?

A. I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. He saw me on Bill Maher and called me one night. We started to meet. I consulted on the second season. Aaron would essentially ask certain questions, like, How do shows work? What would be your worst nightmare on election night if you were covering it? He saw me on MSNBC and asked me what happened during the break.

Q. Are you naturally argumentative?

A. I’m not really a person who thrives on conflict and confrontation. I like to consider myself an open-minded person, but I have strong beliefs and strong opinions. I certainly don’t shy away. I love a good argument. There are important issues and we need to challenge each other on them.

Q. How would you describe Stephanie Cutter?

A. She’s certainly smart and experienced and will bring a lot to the show.

Q. I hear you’re a hunter.

A. Yes, I do deer in the fall and I got a bear two years ago in Alaska. I took some wounded female veterans there for a rehab program.

Q. I understand you duck hunt, and did that recently with the guys from “Duck Dynasty.”

A. Yes, it’s a great show and they’re geat guys. I’ve been talking to Willie on the phone, trying to get him on “Crossfire.” I think it would be great for him to come on and talk about American culture and whether television is providing a good enough window into good American values.

Q. Can you say one good thing about President Obama?

A. You know, he’s a great, compelling public speaker. I wish we agreed on things, I wish he’d help me sell my case. He’s a talent. But we disagree on most things, on pretty much everything.

Stephanie Cutter as deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Stephanie Cutter as deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty

Stephanie Cutter

Graduated from Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School, Smith College, and Georgetown University Law Center. She has worked for top Democrats for 20 years, including senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, President Bill Clinton, and in the Obama administration, most recently as deputy campaign manager for his 2012 reelection campaign. She recently launched Precision Strategies, a strategic consulting firm, with three other partners. She is 44.


Q. Who was your most important early influence in politics?

A. My grandfather was the earliest influence. He was very involved in local politics in Taunton and always brought his grandchildren with him wherever he went. So I was exposed to politics very early.

Q. Where would he take you?

A. I remember meetings at the fire station, the police station, meetings at the coffee shop. He owned an insurance company where people would come and convene.

Q. What about in your Raynham home?

A. There were always debates about what was happening. Even at a young age, I remember talk about the issues of the day, and it was in a very busy setting. My mother raised us three kids, but there was always time for a discussion on the issues.

Q. Do you still have ties to Massachusetts?

A. All of my cousins, my uncles, my mother, and one of my brothers live there. I get back as often as I can.

Q. Who is your political hero?

A. Senator Kennedy, for a number of reasons. There was nobody who worked harder for the principles and ideals he believed in. He worked harder at 70 years of age than the 25-year-olds on his staff, and that was inspiring. And he knew how to fight the good fight and find ways to reach across the aisle to get things done.

Q. What was it like to work for him?

A. He was always a dear friend and a mentor, and he treated his staff like family. When you’re working 24 hours a day, seven days a week in very stressful situations, that means something.

Stephanie Cutter working with John Kerry in 2004.
Stephanie Cutter working with John Kerry in 2004.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty

Q. How do you think he would feel about Congress today?

A. I don’t think Congress would be what it is today if Senator Kennedy was alive. He would be a leader in ways to bring people together. If he could do that under George Bush, he could certainly do that under President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Many in the Republican Party, including John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, he had worked well with throughout the years.

Q. Public discourse on politics has grown crude. Do you think a program like “Crossfire” helps or harms civil discourse?

A. This is the only show on TV that presents both sides of an argument equally. It’s not tilted in favor of Democrats or Republicans; it’s a fair match. Our goal is to strike a balance between smart, fiery debate and a civil discussion so that we can get to the bottom of issues.

Q. Do you think there’s any common ground that you and S.E. Cupp can agree on?

A. I don't think there’s a lot we agree on, but I’m certain that we will find areas of common ground.

Q. How would you describe her?

A. Passionate. We don’t know each other well.

Q. If you had to describe the Tea Party in one word, what would it be?

A. I don’t think there is one word to describe the Tea Party because I don’t think there’s such a thing as the Tea Party. I think there are grassroots Republicans who have unconventional — I mean out of convention with the Republican Party — views on everything from the role of government to working with Democrats to isolationism. But I also think there’s not one set of beliefs in something called the Tea Party. It’s more diverse.

Q. How does this affect the Republican Party?

A. Republicans need to work it out and they need to do it soon because you have a constant battle between the fringe of the Republican Party and the majority elected to Congress, and those two things come into conflict. They are in a civil war with themselves.

Q. How would you describe Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick in their roles as governor of Massachusetts?

A. I think Governor Romney was always looking to his next step. He served one term and started running for president halfway through the term. Decisions were made not with Massachusetts in mind, but with higher office. I don’t think you can say that of Deval Patrick. He’s had one thing on his mind, and that is governing Massachusetts.

Q. What do you do for fun?

A. I enjoy hanging out with friends and family, spending time with nieces and nephews, running, and cooking.

Q. What are you reading right now?


a. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.”
A friend of mine knows I have an obsession with vampires and sent me the book. I love it. But it’s not a book that puts you to sleep at night.

Q. Why vampires?

A. My earliest impression of a scary movie was “Salem’s Lot.”

Q. What are your best memories of Massachusetts?

A. Our Sundays were spent going to Plymouth Rock, the Old North Church, Concord and Lexington with family. It’s not an experience most people have. And then there’s going to the Cape every summer, and to Maine in the winter. I love Massachusetts. I always thought I would move back there. Maybe someday I will.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.

S.E. Cupp’s degree from NYU was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.