August 7, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

SE Cupp’s pose-striking punditry

She and other conservatives can't let go of a time long gone.

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Among things we can do together to try preventing the president from stealing the election is demanding more from the pundit corps. (This includes yours truly.) We are entering a dangerous period fraught with instability and apprehension as well as potential for violence and bloodshed. Donald Trump is most likely to contest anything short of a landslide for Democrat Joe Biden. The president is almost certain to drag the process out well into 2021. Moreover, he has friends and allies inside and outside the GOP and law enforcement able to use extra-legal means of keeping him in power.

As Nils Gilman, of the Transition Integrity Project, told USA Today, the president will “create as many possible pre-narratives for claiming that the results are not legitimate. He wants to create fear, uncertainty and doubt so that people feel frozen and paralyzed, and then the man of action, Trump himself, can ride in and seize the day.”

Demanding more of pundits like SE Cupp is one way of preventing the president from stealing the election.

This is a time for grave seriousness from the pundit corps, especially those with the biggest megaphones. This is not a time to tolerate punditry-as-usual, which is more about entertainment and pose-striking than hard-nosed polemics. I think most of us get it (Gilman and TIP co-founder Rosa Brooks certainly do), but many of us don’t. They are still making pre-2016 arguments for a post-2016 America spiraling madly. Use your free speech to urge them to face reality and force them to snap out of it.

Case in point is SE Cupp. She’s a New York Daily News columnist and CNN host. She’s white, conventionally attractive, wears black glasses and gives the impression of being a deep thinker. In her latest, she said the choice between voting for Biden and a write-in candidate (she’s against Trump) depends on Biden’s choice of a running mate. “As a staunch conservative who has voted Republican in past elections, I don’t take this lightly. I don’t agree with everything that Biden supports, nor am I 100 percent comfortable with the direction he wants to take the country. … For moderates like me who are looking for reasons to vote for Biden, we need to know who’s on that ticket, and soon. I’m hoping, for the sake of the country, he chooses someone I can support.”

Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!

For the curious, Cupp likes Kamala Harris, dislikes Susan Rice. (They are reportedly Biden’s top two picks.) It would be interesting if Cupp were to say Harris could ignite the Democratic base, especially Black Democrats and Democrats of color, thus doing the most to ensure Trump’s defeat in a tidal wave. Alas, Cupp doesn’t go there. Instead, she leans into the false thesis of needing a good reason to vote for Biden, as if nearly four years of authoritarianism, corruption, madness and treason were not enough.

Fact is, no one knows if running mates have any effect on voter behavior. Few people base their vote on the person running with a nominee. (The exception widely cited is Sarah Palin.) This goes double this year, because many Americans who say they are voting for Biden aren’t really voting for Biden. They are voting against Trump, which means Biden himself is a secondary thought, which means his running mate is a tertiary thought—if they’re thinking about vice presidents at all, which is unlikely.

Making Cupp’s thesis more absurd: Writing in a candidate is throwing a vote away, which means Biden is the only choice, no matter who his VP pick, if she really means it when she says she’s “sick of all the crap”: “The gaslighting, the puerile tweets, the divisiveness, the rampant ignorance and the utter inability to put the country before his fragile ego. I’m ready to move on, I’m ready to make the presidency normal again.” To the extent that she insists that writing in a candidate is legitimate, I don’t know what to say, because that’s not voting against Trump. That’s voting for someone who will have no impact, which means Cupp’s opposition to Trump isn’t serious, which means a column about how much depends on Biden’s pick is just striking a pose.

No one knows if running mates matter, but an argument about Harris as Biden’s running mate is a good argument. To pick Harris is to say to the Democratic base: yes, it can happen here. A United States senator from California, former prosecutor and biracial daughter of immigrants could be president one day—if you make it happen. Even if that never happens, the mere possibility of it happening would be enough, in the age of Donald Trump, to supercharge Democratic turnout, fueling a landslide election, which is probably the only thing that would push Trump out of office.

And yet Cupp doesn’t go here.

Ultimately, I think Cupp and others aren’t adapting to our new age of danger, because they don’t want to let go of the old regime once so nurturing to their respective styles of conservative thought. That time is gone. We are no longer in an age of rugged individualism, because we can’t be. Anything short of we’re-all-in-this-together might kill us all. Push pundits to accept reality, expect more, or demand they move on.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. hw on July 30, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    SE Cupp is not a serious journalist, she’s a middling pundit at best. She accomplished her goal of gaining attention, without providing context or insight. I don’t understand MSM’s fascination with pundits, since they speak from a partisan lens as opposed to actual expertise. Even now, with a global recession, death, climate catastrophe, and a destabilized democracy crumbling by the day, MSM focuses on the shiny object of the day. Even now, when we are starting to hear the term ‘authoritarianism’ used more frequently, the media fails to delve deeply into its meaning and how fascism would impact the daily lives of Americans. People who have never known anything but freedom cannot truly appreciate a world where civil rights are eliminated, borders are closed, and freedom of speech is eradicated. This should be the main story from now until November. Forget the pundits, showcase the historians and authoritarian experts…these are the only people who can properly contextualize the danger that we face if Trump wins reelection. When the imminent danger is framed in this manner, it becomes very clear how irrelevant Biden’s VP choice truly is.

  2. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    I suppose I’m just an ignorant old “white” man but have to admit I never heard of Cupp. I’m not one who watches or listens to pundits, unless you consider Trevor Noah or Stephen Colbert to be pundits. I get most of my news/opinion from folks like you, John Stoehr, and some other well informed friends. I just unsubscribed from the NYTimes and subscribed to the WaPo on line and they don’t really get it right imho. It is impressive that George Will has left the republican party out of disgust for tr$mp and his thugs. I guess he’s a pundit. Anyway, I appreciate your approach to the current and terrible situation. One things definite for me, viz. “Don’t count my chickens before” you know the rest. It ain’t over till tr$mp and his cronies are out of the White House and probably/definitely not even then. Hang in there.

  3. on July 30, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    It doesn’t matter who is on Biden’s short list for VP, Cupp would write this column. If Biden allowed Cupp to select his running mate, she’d criticize him for something else. Cupp is a conservative; she isn’t giving up on wingnut welfare.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:48 pm

      May I borrow “wingnut welfare”? Too good.

  4. on July 30, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    Sure. I think I got it from Charlie Pierce or LGM.

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