NEW YORK — Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former first lady of San Francisco turned Fox News host, confirmed in an interview Monday night that she has talked to White House officials about taking on one of the toughest jobs on the planet: President Donald Trump’s press secretary.
That news and all speculation surrounding it might surprise Bay Area residents who know her as the ex-wife of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of California’s most liberal politicians.
Newsom seems happy — sort of, Guilfoyle said in the interview with the Bay Area News Group at Fox News headquarters on Monday night.
“He was cracking up,” Guilfoyle said. “He’s like, ‘Oh my goodness you’re a rock star, you’d be fantastic, but oh man.’ ”
The 48-year-old Guilfoyle said the idea of her taking the job had been “raised by a number of people” in the Trump administration, adding that she communicates regularly with the administration and considers herself a friend of the Trump family. “I’m a patriot, and it would be an honor to serve the country,” she said.
But Fox News obviously wouldn’t be happy to see her go, particularly after the recent departures of Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly. In a statement Tuesday, the network said Guilfoyle was “a valued member of the Fox News prime-time lineup — and is under a long-term contract with the network.”
If Trump offers Guilfoyle the job, he’ll be choosing someone who’s already defending his presidency on the air most nights. But it’s a far cry from her previous political life, when she campaigned for Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who is now California’s lieutenant governor and hoping to drop the “lieutenant.”
Guilfoyle, who’s funny and personable off-camera, would also be coming aboard at a time of increased White House turmoil, with a new controversy shaking the administration nearly every day.
“It’s the hardest job in politics under the best of circumstances, but now it’s a lot harder with Trump,” said Dan Schnur, a veteran political analyst at the University of Southern California. “She’s clearly a very smart and a very articulate person, but the challenge in this job isn’t intelligence or adroitness. Rather, it’s adjusting to a president whose messaging is very inconsistent.”
Asked if this would be the hardest job in the country, Guilfoyle said with a laugh: “Other than president.”
If she ends up as press secretary, Guilfoyle would be informed by experiences on both sides of the American political divide.
She grew up in San Francisco’s Mission district. Her mother, Mercedes Marie Gerena, moved from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and worked as a social worker. Her father, Anthony Guilfoyle, emigrated from County Clare, Ireland, when he was 21, working in construction and real estate and serving in the U.S. military.
Her mother died of leukemia when Guilfoyle was 11 years old. “It really did a lot to shape me into the person I am — to be very resilient but also very empathetic to other people and the struggles and things they may have going on,” she said.
She said she got more into politics while studying Ronald Reagan as a student at the University of California, Davis, where she first registered as a Republican and joined the Young Republicans club. “There were like six of us,” she said with a laugh. She graduated magna cum laude, modeling to put herself through school, and got her law degree from the University of San Francisco.
Guilfoyle went on to work as a prosecutor in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Her co-workers remember her as ambitious and driven. Stephen Kay, who was Guilfoyle’s boss in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said she was an “exceptionally talented” trial lawyer with a powerful courtroom presence.
“She just knew how to get jurors to eat out of the palm of her hand,” Kay said. “She was a natural at it.”
In L.A., while handling gang prosecutions, she had “a couple contracts out on my life from the different gangs, which are no longer valid, thankfully,” she said.
Guilfoyle’s most prominent case was a 2001 murder-by-dog-mauling case in San Francisco, which led to national press attention — and eventually jobs at Court TV, “Good Morning America” and CNN before she landed at Fox.
Guilfoyle married Newsom, then a San Francisco city supervisor, in 2001. The glamorous couple were seen by some in the city as “The New Kennedys,” as a 2004 magazine spread declared them — with a photo of the two lying on the plush rug of the Getty Mansion in Los Angeles.
“We were so young and so enthusiastic,” Guilfoyle said, remembering how people would approach them on the street. But the attention wasn’t always easy — protesters once burned a couch in front of their house to protest Newsom’s tough-love policies on homelessness.
One of Guilfoyle’s favorite memories as San Francisco first lady was hosting Prince Charles and Princess Camilla for one of their first official visits to the U.S. An Anglophile, Guilfoyle showed the couple around the city. She laughs over memories of the prince sharing his dessert with her.
The two divorced in 2005, after she started her TV career in New York. Guilfoyle later married Eric Villency, the CEO of an interior design firm. The two, who are now divorced, have a 10-year-old son, Ronan.
Now, Newsom is the front-runner in the 2018 gubernatorial race. And despite their political differences — she’s bashed “sanctuary city” policies, he’s backed them; she’s a strong gun rights advocate, gun control is a big issue for him — Guilfoyle had kind words about Newsom’s campaign.
“I think that he will be governor of California. I think he will do an outstanding job,” she said. “I respectfully disagree with some of his positions that I don’t believe in. However, I think he’s authentic in terms of what he believes and what he’s willing to fight for and I think that’s really the most you can ask for of our politicians.”
The two are still close friends, Guilfoyle said.
Some California Democrats say that having Newsom’s ex-wife at the podium defending Trump could make for uncomfortable news during his gubernatorial campaign. But “Gavin Newsom has been attacking Donald Trump policies for over two years now every single day, and I don’t expect that will change just because of the slightly awkward personal dynamic,” said Nathan Ballard, a California political consultant who is close with Newsom (who declined to comment for this story).
If she were press secretary, “if I had to go after him, I would,” Guilfoyle said. “But I’d be fair.”
Guilfoyle’s current show, “The Five,” was conceived as a political version of ABC’s “The View.” It features a host of five panelists — four conservatives, one liberal — discussing the political news of the day. The show recently moved to a prime-time 9 p.m. weekday time slot in the aftermath of O’Reilly’s departure, amid allegations that he sexually harassed female employees.
The show — which veers between combative and irreverent — feels a little like a political argument around a Thanksgiving table, or with friends over a few beers.
It’s not an act, Guilfoyle said. The group, she added, actually enjoys hanging out with each other.
“They are not only my co-hosts; they’re my very close friends,” she said. “They’re my family. Having lost both my parents, this has been my surrogate family.”
It’s a family that would be difficult to leave behind for any new job, she said.
Guilfoyle has been loyal to Fox. When news first came out about sexual harassment accusations against executive Roger Ailes, Guilfoyle publicly defended him, calling him a “champion of women.”
In the interview, she said she was speaking just from her personal experience, adding, “I don’t condone in any way sexual harassment or a hostile work environment.”
When she stares into the camera each night, Guilfoyle said that she knows that Trump may be watching from the White House — but she doesn’t dwell on it.
“He’s one of millions and millions of viewers that are tuning in,” she said, before flashing a smile. “He’s an important one.”