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Meet the Man Judging the Hell Out of TV Pundits’ and Politicians’ Homes

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Medium, April 21, 2020

Aformer travel photographer and White House staffer under Bill Clinton, Claude Taylor is now best known as one of Twitter’s foremost Trump antagonists. Taylor regularly rails against the president, relying on a patchwork network of unconventional (and sometimes faulty) sources to deliver scathing anti-Trump rants. He also created Mad Dog PAC, an anti-Trump group that has garnered attention for its inflammatory billboards.

Earlier this month, Taylor launched a new Twitter campaign: Room Rater. With so many pundits and politicians recording on-air news segments from the confines of their homes, Taylor and his girlfriend, Jessie Bahrey, offer biting criticisms of their interior decor: Madeleine Albright’s oversaturated library, for example, earned just a four out of 10 (“She won the Balkan War. Bombed here,” Room Rater decreed), while Mike Pence’s office was deemed “Unimaginative” and received a rating of just two out of 10. People seem to have taken to the joke: In a few weeks, the account has accrued some 50,000 followers.

GEN spoke to Taylor over the phone for more intel on exactly what makes for a good pandemic-era TV background for pundits sequestered at home.

GEN: How did the idea for Room Rater come about?

Claude Taylor: I was talking with my girlfriend, and we just started doing it together. It was really just meant to be lighthearted quarantine content. These Skype rooms or Zoom rooms are, for the most part, different talking heads’ dining rooms, living rooms, and kitchens. It’s an unexpected intimacy. I think many people were mentally doing what Room Rater was doing — we just started tweeting about it. I think it’s one of those things that if it hadn’t been invented by us, somebody would’ve had to do it.

Well, you’ve been looking at a lot of rooms. Who’s got the best-looking room?

I think a lot depends on taste. Personally, I like John Heilemann’s kitchen probably more than any other space. Steve Schmidt’s, I don’t as much. I think it’s a little sterile. Tom Nichols I thought had a nice space.

I think the spaces that are most interesting are spaces with depth, where you can see a room behind them, rather than just a flat surface or a bookshelf. Those are the rooms I’ve enjoyed the most, where you can look into their lives a little bit.

I’ve definitely seen a lot of bookshelves.

You can have a whole discussion about bookcases. How many books do you want to show? Are you going to go all books, or are you going to show more of you? How do you organize the books? Is it a faux pas to have some horizontal versus vertical? Interior decorators do this awful thing where they categorize by color. There’s all this discussion just about books, just about bookshelves, and to what degree they should dominate the background. If you’re going to do a bookshelf, you need to break it up a little bit. You can have predominantly books, but there’s got to be a few items of interest from your travels, something from a sports team, or something that just says a little bit about who the person is.

I noticed you were a big fan of Ken Burns’ room, which appeared to be an attic.

I assume it’s his attic. It’s just glorious, a great space and dramatically lit. It’s so perfect for him — revealing the bones of an old wooden structure.

Who had the worst room?

Dr. Phil. I didn’t really have a decent shot of whatever he was speaking from when he made his awful comments on Fox, but he was a zero. Ted Cruz was a one. Devin Nunes was a one. Nunes always speaks from a tractor museum in the Central Valley in California, where his family used to have a farm. Usually, there’s an antique John Deere in the background; this time, it wasn’t even an American tractor.

Sounds like a caricature of a politician.

Yeah, I mean, it’s Devin Nunes, and he’s a fake farmer. The whole thing was ludicrous.

Do you have any decor tips for the on-air pundits and politicians?

They should probably take a look at Room Rater on Twitter and learn by example because they definitely don’t want to be a two or a three. There are some easy things: Don’t just appear before a blank wall—that’s just dumb. At the minimum, set up a bookcase, even if it’s not yours. If you don’t have a lot of books, put some interesting art on a wall, maybe add a plant. I mean, there are some ways you could fake it even if you don’t have a nice setup. That, at least, will get you in the fives or sixes.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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