Your Daily Newt: The Great Dino Debates

Newt Gingrich and paleontologist Jack Horner debate dinosaurs in 1998.<a href="http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/111009-1">Courtesy of C-Span</a>


As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Gingrich fantasized about bringing dinosaurs back to life in his 1995 book, and he decorated his Capitol office with a tyrannosaurus rex skull on loan from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that, in 1997 and again in 1998, Gingrich participated in a series of public debates with Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner to discuss whether the T-Rex was a scavenger or a predator.

The first forum (which was not in the style of the Lincoln–Douglas debates) came shortly after Gingrich, joined at one point by Easy Rider star Peter Fonda, spent a day digging for dinosaur bones—and small mammals—at a secure private site south of Livingston, Montana. Jerry Gray of the New York Times set the scene:

Looking like a pudgy Indiana Jones in jeans, plaid shirt and wide-brimmed hat, lugging a backpack bulging with pickax, chisels and a wisk broom, the Speaker of the House chipped away a crust of brittle stones and dried mud to expose his Jurassic treasure. He grinned broadly and proclaimed, ”I feel like a 9-year-old.”

Following the excavation, Gingrich joined Horner for a one-hour debate at Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies, to discuss the feeding habits of the T-Rex. Gingrich’s theory was simple: “I believe he was a predator because I saw ‘Jurassic Park’ and he ate a lawyer and it wasn’t a dead lawyer.”

The event, which doubled as a fundraiser for the museum, was enough of a success that they did it again the next year. Yes, there’s a video.

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