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Heffernan: Kimberly Guilfoyle shows our way of looking at high society and power is broken

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I can’t get that uncanny image of Kimberly Guilfoyle out of my mind. You know — bold, glamorous, raven-haired Kimberly Guilfoyle with the heavy-hitting law resumé and the very, how to put it, confident voice.

There she is in my mind’s eye, consort to a high-placed politician, soaking up both his love and the love of fans while … lying on a Tabriz carpet in an opulent San Francisco parlor chockablock with antiques and graced with a spectacular view of the bay.

Right — I’m not talking about the meme of Guilfoyle from Monday night at the Republican National Convention. I don’t mean the heavily parodied freeze-frame in which she stood, arms outspread, as a woman who evidently would not be crucified on a cross of libs.

No — I mean the image of a recumbent Guilfoyle in Harper’s Bazaar from September 2004, when her political companion was, of course, not her current companion — far-right presidential son Donald Trump Jr. — but the then-mayor of San Francisco and now-governor of California, Gavin Newsom, a lifelong liberal. The piece dubbed Guilfoyle and Newsom “The New Kennedys.”

The bizarre Bazaar image (if you can resist looking it up, please do) shows bare-shouldered Guilfoyle folded in Newsom’s arms, inexplicably on the floor of an extravagant, gilded dwelling straight out of “Dynasty.” Their awkward-as-hell asana can only be called “SNL” bait.

From my own days at fashion magazines, I remember that power-couple profiles like this one were considered jackpots, especially in thick September issues. The article would provide a “serious” pretext (California politics) for an eye-candy extravaganza. And the photo spread would convey that earnest public servants spend their days not in budget meetings but in erotic, consumerist splendor, making out on carpets in revealing eveningwear.

You can bet that Kimberly and Gavin were not likened to the Kennedys for their commitment to the Peace Corps. They were “Kennedys” because they were hot. And spent money.

And though the marriage — and Guilfoyle’s commitment to anything like liberal politics — lasted only three years, the couple’s shining Camelot days are frozen for all time in that spread, as if the image were shot through with eternal Botox.

My hope this week, as the sound and fury of Trump’s macabre Republican National Convention roars on at a deafening volume, is not just that Trump will be soundly defeated in November. I also hope that the reign of this century’s bipartisan obsession with vulgar preening will be bookended by these two photos of Guilfoyle. The 2004 shot of 35-year-old Democrat Guilfoyle spooning on the floor with Newsom. And the 2020 YouTube download of 51-year-old Republican Guilfoyle, as she screams on behalf of President Trump, “The best is yet to come!”

Guilfoyle now disparages California as “a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets and blackouts in homes.” She says Democrats made it that way, in whose ranks she must include her ex.

But I don’t see her as a once-good Democrat who somehow turned into a bad Republican. She, like so many aspiring influencers, went where the spotlight was — and money, power and a mate-on-the-rise.

It may be hard to remember, but it wasn’t always this way. The Kennedys with their Camelot were an exception to the reigning idea that the American role model, the president, eschew consumerism and extravagance in favor of dignity, thrift and diligence.

President Coolidge allegedly said the American people wanted a “solemn ass” for president. So, the opposite of a sexy centerfold. And Camp David, the presidential getaway, gives a sense of what presidential leisure is meant to be: horseshoes, billiards, reading and of course chapel attendance, all amid castoff furniture and mosquitos. Not a celebrity hairstylist or tanning bed in sight.

In this century too many in politics — and media, academia, the law — seem to have lost their way. They became, or at least mixed with, the overclass. The TED set, the Gulfstream set, the Davos set, the can-I-get-you-a-glass-of-champagne-milord set. The greed set.

Look, I see the allure. Though I’ve never flown in a Gulfstream, I did attend, as an assistant, photo shoots like the one Newsom and Guilfoyle did for Bazaar. You could eat from vast sushi spreads. You’d get free lipsticks and could even go to wrap parties.

If someone had proposed to write a magazine profile of me as the new Jackie Kennedy, come on, I might have even said yes.

But I was never asked, so I never did. And that’s just as well. Because those who did take up such offers are now in an uneasy spot, whatever their political party. Trumpism — in all its gaudiness and brutality — has exposed the false idols of the Gulfstream set over the last decades.

And Guilfoyle’s cringe-inducing performance on Monday night represents a kind of limit case for how haywire “glamour” can go.

In addition to the success so far of Joe Biden’s not-so-glamorous bid for the presidency, there’s another sign that the excesses of the era might be coming to an end. Harper’s Bazaar, which had been in print since 1867, closed up several of its editions just last month. No one even noticed.

@page88

For the record:
1:05 PM, Aug. 28, 2020: An earlier version of this column said Harper’s Bazaar had closed up shop; not all of its editions have closed.

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