The world united in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, or at last most of it did.

Here in the U.S. some prominent conservative commentators like Bill O'Reilly were offering a harsher appraisal of the South African leader's legacy.

'He was a communist, this man,' O'Reilly said during his discussion with Rick Santorum on the O'Reilly Factor.

O’Reilly was by no means alone in that view on the right.

It's important to remember that hostility to Mandela and the ANC is a decades old pastime in conservative quarters here. During the 1980's the Reagan administration placed the ANC, Mandela's party, on the United States official list of terrorist organizations.

In 1985 then Congressman Dick Cheney voted that he not be released from jail.

Margaret Thatcher referred to the African National Congress as a “typical terrorist organization” in 1987 and refused to agree to sanctions on the apartheid government.

As late as 2008 Mandela was still on the U.S. terror list until George W. Bush finally signed the bill to remove him from it on the eve of his 90th birthday.

O'Reilly's pointed comments about Mandela were made during a wider discussion with former senator Santorum about how the GOP could win over more votes in the next presidential election.

O'Reilly acknowledged Mandela's greatness, but then he used the word that magically obliterates a distinguished man's legacy among the GOP base: communist.

'He was a communist, all right?' said O'Reilly. 'But he was a great man. What he did for his people was stunning… He was a great man, but he was a communist.'

O'Reilly added: 'I told Bishop Desmond Tutu I disagree with you and Mister Mandela because Tutu's that way as well. But I respect you….'

Instead of blasting Mandela as O’Reilly had, Santorum confined himself to noting that he had fought against 'a great injustice,' adding: 'You're right, what he was advocating for was not necessarily the right answer.'

Mandela was advocating for the end of Apartheid, but O-K then Rick. Who knows better than you?

News of Nelson Mandela's passing was an occasion of profound sadness globally, at conservative outlets like posters were condemning the man they called a 'terrorist' and the condition of the country he had run as president.

'The apartheid system in SA was necessary, just as it was necessary for many Indian tribes in the early USA.' wrote one unrepentant commentator.

Another commentator was outraged by GOP Senator Ted Cruz's praise this week for the African leader.

'Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe,' Cruz wrote on his Facebook page. 'He stood firm for decades on the principle that until all South Africans enjoyed equal liberties…'

But Cruz's most ardent Facebook supporters were having none of it. 'He was, in fact, a terrorist and a criminal, he persecuted and killed Zulus. All the apartheid BS you hear in today’s media is all lies…' wrote one commentator.

Then Cruz himself came in for a pasting. 'Cruz just tanked. Another one bites the dust. Sad,' wrote a commentator on Breitbart.

So has the GOP learned anything from once being on the wrong side of history over and over?

Well, Rick Santorum - yesterday's man in just about every conceivable way - decided that the day of Mandela's death was the ideal time to compare Obamacare to Apartheid.

'He was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives – and Obamacare is front and center in that,' Santorum said.

Obamacare. Apartheid. Trust Rick Santorum to recognize the twin evils of the modern era. It doesn't matter - in fact it probably helps - that they are oppressions that Santorum has personally never needed to fear in his life.

Why let reality get in the way of demonization? Apparently they haven't learned much at all.