Newt Gingrich is fighting back against conservative critics who attacked the former Speaker of the House and co-host of CNN's “Crossfire” for his praise of Nelson Mandela.
After Mandela passed away Thursday, Gingrich posted a statement, praising him as "one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime."
The right-wing response was overwhelmingly reproachful.
"Such an amazing re-write of history since 1962 and 1990. Newt, I thought you of all people, a historian, would be true to who this guy really was," Mike Winkelman posted on Gingrich's Facebook page.
"This clenched-fist, murdering, gorilla warrior does not deserve respect from informed Americans," posted Trish Baehr-Schaefer.
There were several others posts, many generating dozens of "likes," and some with language unfit for publication.
But Gingrich shot back with a statement Saturday, challenging his critics to ask themselves what they would have done in Mandela's shoes.
"Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country. After years of preaching non-violence, using the political system, making his case as a defendant in court, Mandela resorted to violence against a government that was ruthless and violent in its suppression of free speech," he wrote.
He went on to compare Mandela to the Founding Fathers and the farmers who took up arms at Lexington and Concord in the Revolutionary War. He praised the former South African president for his calls for reconciliation, his Christian faith and his turn from Communism to opening South Africa up to free enterprise.
"I was very surprised by it," Gingrich said Sunday CNN's "State of the Union" about the backlash.
"Callista posted my statement on her Facebook page and was amazed at some of the intensity, some of whom came back three, four and five times, repeating how angry they were."
Gingrich continued: "Ironically, most of the things that people complained about occurred during the 27 years he was in prison."
Gingrich has a long history as a Mandela supporter. During the Reagan administration, he was among the many Republicans in Congress who pressured the president to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime.
Fellow conservative Ted Cruz faced a similar backlash this week when he posted a respectful tribute to Mandela that generated angry criticisms. No comment yet from the Texas senator on the reaction of some of his supporters.