CPAC: Riley Gaines says media pushed ‘propaganda’ to smear Trump interaction

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Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines believes the media pushed “propaganda” to make it seem like she tried to awkwardly dodge a kiss on the cheek from former President Trump on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. 

“I think these recent headlines show, you know, how the media is pushing propaganda to fit their narrative,” Gaines told Fox News Digital. “By no means, not even for a second on that stage was I uncomfortable sharing that space with Trump.” 

Gaines found herself in the spotlight earlier this year when she spoke out against University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, and was allowed to compete in women’s swimming. Thomas’ situation sparked a national debate over whether transgender woman should be permitted to compete in sports against biological women. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is joined onstage by SEC champion swimmer Riley Gaines at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, U.S., August 6, 2022. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is joined onstage by SEC champion swimmer Riley Gaines at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, U.S., August 6, 2022. 
(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

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Gaines, who doesn’t believe transgender women should compete with biological women, famously tied Thomas fifth place in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Her side-eye glare at Thomas became a flashpoint for the debate. Along the way, Gaines has been interviewed by Tucker Carlson, invited to speak at CPAC and emerged as a hero among many conservatives. 

She appeared onstage at the annual gathering of conservatives with skateboarder Taylor Silverman to discuss radical gender politics of the left, but stuck around to hear that evening’s keynote speaker — but she had no clue the former president was going to invite her on stage.

“I met with Trump before the speech, and we took a photo, and we chatted for a while, and he told me, ‘You know, I have you a front row seat. I might mention your name. You can just stand up. It'll be cool,’” she said. 

Trump declared during his speech he wanted to “keep men out of women’s sports,” before introducing the “beautiful, great swimmer” and surprising her with an invitation to join him on stage. 

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines react after finishing tied for 5th in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta Georgia.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines react after finishing tied for 5th in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta Georgia.
(Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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“Come up here, would you please come up here,” Trump said as he signaled to Gaines, who was seated off camera. “This is a great champion, and she was beating everybody until one day she looked over and said, ‘That’s the largest human being I have ever seen.’”

Gaines then joined the former president on stage, he appeared to whisper something to her and then kissed the top of her head. Gaines then stepped to the microphone and said, “Basically, all I want to say is that it takes a brain, and common sense and fifth-grade biology level understanding to realize this is blatantly unfair. It’s completely obvious… keep female sports female.”  

Trump then joked that he could beat the swim champ in a race because he’s a man and the two embraced before he resumed his speech. 

“I had no idea I was going to go on stage. So, I was pretty nervous. But when a topic you're so passionate about, nerves kind of do go out of the window a little bit,” she said. 

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If Gaines was nervous, the raucous CPAC crowd had no idea and gave her a rousing ovation. But after Gaines exited the stage, she learned firsthand how the media can manipulate the narrative to fit its agenda. 

Newsweek wrote, “Trump's Kiss Attempt on Swimmer Riley Gaines Creates Awkward CPAC Moment,” while Mediaite headlined a video, “AWKWARD: Trump Invites Swimmer on Stage During CPAC Speech, Who Recoils When Ex-President Goes in for a Kiss.” The Washington Examiner wrote, “Swimmer Riley Gaines dodges Trump as he tries to kiss her on stage,” and a viral tweet claiming she “flinches and pulled away” was viewed over 1.5 million times. 

Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines swims the 200 Butterfly prelims at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 19th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines swims the 200 Butterfly prelims at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 19th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, Gaines told Fox News Digital that nothing could be further from the truth. 

“I was nervous about being in front of that many people, but I never thought Trump was, you know, making me uncomfortable. I was never repulsed by him. And so, you know, you have these headlines that say ‘swimmer awkwardly refused Trump's kiss,’” she said. “I slightly turned my head to hear what he was saying to me, and so people took that and completely ran with it.”

Gaines suggested that perhaps the mainstream media was using the clip to “justify” footage of President Biden that conservatives have long criticized, but either way, she believes anyone reporting she was uncomfortable was incorrect. 

“I’m not sure if it’s, you know, they're trying to paint the same narrative or what it is, but take it from me. I never felt uncomfortable there, and I was never, ever trying to dodge a kiss,” Gaines said. “I think that's completely crazy.”

Gaines, who keeps a close eye on current events and said she has always followed politics, never thought she would be in a situation that the jam-packed crowd of conservatives at CPAC wanted to hear from her, let alone during a Trump speech. 

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“I would have loved to see myself at CPAC, but I thought it would totally be on the other side. You know, I would be in the audience watching, definitely never thought I would be on that stage speaking,” she said. 

Gaines was nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year by the University of Kentucky after she finished her career in the pool. She won three individual conference titles in the SEC, broke two SEC records, had 12 All-America awards and graduated with summa cum laude honors. She finished behind Thomas in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships earlier this year.

Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report. 

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