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Gingrich gives fellow GOPers Mandela history lesson

The former House Speaker challenged members of his party over callous statements about Mandela's life and death.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich fired back at conservatives who criticized his praise of the late Nelson Mandela, saying he was "surprised by the hostility and vehemence" he experienced. 

After calling Mandela "one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime" on his Facebook page, Gingrich faced a flurry of negative responses from his own supporters.

Tea party star Ted Cruz faced a similar response when he payed tribute to Mandela.  

Gingrich responded to the ugly backlash by posing a question to his fellow conservatives. "What would you do here in America if you had the kind of oppression" suffered by South African blacks for decades, Gingrich asked in a post on his website.

He also chastened his fellow Republicans for not being more vocal opponents of the apartheid regime before its fall.

While Gingrich is not famous as an anti-racist force in the Republican Party, his statement highlights the split between the more radical faction of the GOP and its slightly more moderate wing.

Gingrich's remembrance and his response to critics were enough to warrant praise from the other end of the ideological spectrum. Ta-Nehisi Coates noted at the Atlantic that unlike members of the GOP who branded Mandela a terrorist only to eulogized him this week, Gingrich fought to end apartheid and was one of the Republicans who helped override President Ronald Reagan's attempt to veto sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government.

Gingrich discussed the backlash with CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday's "State of the Union," where he said that his critics had "bought a rationale that defined everybody who was in anyway in rebellion against the established system in the third world as anti-American."

In 1998, Gingrich presented Mandela with the Congressional Gold Medal.