Kimberly Guilfoyle And Gavin Newsom's Rug Photo Controversy, Explained

Sweeping things under the rug gets more difficult when you're sprawled out on top of it, as Kimberly Guilfoyle and then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom learned the hard way. What started as a creative whim for Harper's Bazaar has now turned into an ornate, candelabra-framed skeleton bordering on the satirical in both political figures' closets.

Guilfoyle and Newsom's relationship began and ended within a matter of a decade, but that was plenty of time to agree to the fashion magazine's photoshoot that would come back to haunt Newsom as he continued his political career toward a possible presidency. (Considering Guilfoyle has been engaged to Donald Trump Jr. since 2020, her association with overt luxury is far less surprising than that of the Democratic governor.)

The photo in question was taken for a 2004 feature on the ex-First Couple of San Francisco. Guilfoyle and Newsom are pictured in evening wear, splayed out on an ornate rug in a Pacific Heights mansion with the San Francisco Bay idyllically framed behind them by a massive floor-to-ceiling window. It's a glamorous shot, to say the least — so, why has it become such a recurring issue for the former couple?

The portrait of luxury flies in the face of Newsom's political objectives

Gavin Newsom and Kimberly Guilfoyle's well-to-do Harper's Bazaar photoshoot might have seemed like a reasonable way to highlight a young, sophisticated Mayor of San Francisco and his highly respected attorney wife in 2004. But years later, Newsom's political strategy as a Democratic state governor doesn't particularly align with languidly lounging on a rug that would likely cost the average San Franciscan months' worth of wages.

As one Democratic political operative told New York Magazine, "Nothing says I care about the cost of your groceries like sprawling out on an expensive rug for a fashion magazine photoshoot. Never in a million years would staff sign off on that now. Pictures go viral. Things cannot be unseen." (To Newsom's credit, no staff members from his mayoral office attended the photoshoot to give him a well-intentioned nudge in the "Hey, this might not be the best look" department.) 

Indeed, some things can't be unseen, like the piercing gaze of Newsom and Guilfoyle staring into the camera as they canoodle on an ornate rug with golden candelabras and plush high-back chairs behind them. The photograph will occasionally recirculate the internet, as they did back in 2023 when rumors of Newsom's plans to run for president cropped up, as a way to discredit his "man of the people" persona. After all, dissenters argue, could a man who takes photos like that be the appropriate vanguard for the fight against homelessness, poverty, and other decidedly less glamorous societal issues?

Kimberly Guilfoyle and Gavin Newsom weren't in love with the feature

Although Kimberly Guilfoyle regularly posts photos enjoying a lavish lifestyle with her fiancé and eldest son of former President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., there was a time when both she and her ex-husband, California Governor Gavin Newsom, cringed ever so slightly at the Harper's Bazaar feature that compared them to former President John F. Kennedy and his wife, former First Lady Jackie Onassis Kennedy. 

"We made no suggestion of any similarity," Guilfoyle insisted to San Francisco Gate in August 2004. In the same interview, Newsom said the controversial photo was photographer Dewey Nicks' idea, not his. "He liked the room, suggested that we do that. He wanted something kind of warm and intimate. It's a fashion magazine." Months later, Newsom exasperatedly told CNN that the comparison of him and Guilfoyle to the Kennedys was "ridiculous" and that "inevitably, any time there are new politicians, they're compared to the Kennedys, the new Bill Clinton." 

Newsom has maintained his opinion on the spread years later, describing it as a poor decision in the earliest stages of his mayoral career. He and Guilfoyle divorced less than one year after the Harper's Bazaar feature was published, something they blamed on their long-term relationship status. As for the photo's effect on Newsom's career? Well, only time will be able to tell how that infamous photoshoot may or may not change the trajectory of political history.