Sen. John McCain (right) was criticized Thursday for suggesting that activists against a House GOP debt plan are being inflexible. The Arizona Republican was just speaking his mind, his Senate colleagues said.
The tea party didn't like Sen. John McCain to begin with. But when the Arizona Republican took to the Senate floor to admonish activists for unrealistic expectations and quote from a Wall Street Journal piece that compared some conservatives to "hobbits," the fight got ugly.
The McCain remarks added fuel to the fire in Washington, D.C., this week as conservatives feuded with GOP leadership in the House and tempers boiled over during the debt ceiling fight.
Activists, a failed 2010 Republican Senate nominee and a fellow Senator bristled and publicly struck back against McCain, though most of his colleagues played off the dustup as the Senator resurrecting a maverick personality that so often saw him willing to criticize his fellow Republicans earlier in his career.
It started Wednesday, when McCain passionately defended Speaker John Boehner's (Ohio) debt ceiling legislation, sharply criticizing the bill's GOP opponents for insisting that more conservative proposals could garner the support necessary to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. He said such claims are patently false and are contributing to a political stalemate that could result in the U.S. defaulting. Many staunch conservatives have vowed to support only the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which passed the House but died in the Senate.
McCain also attacked immovable conservatives — including some Senate Republicans — for suggesting that a default would have no adverse consequences, saying such talk beckoned economic calamity. The 2008 presidential nominee singled out failed GOP Senate candidates Sharron Angle (Nev.) and Christine O'Donnell (Del.) in his remarks.
Angle, a tea party favorite who lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last November despite the Nevada Democrat's high disapproval ratings, charged McCain with hypocrisy for campaigning for conservatives' support during his own 2010 Republican primary only to criticize the movement with his fifth term secured.
"This man campaigned for TEA Party support in his last re-election," Angle said Thursday in a statement. "It is regrettable that a man seeking dialogue, action and cooperation for votes on the floor of the United States Senate has only one strategy to achieve that effort: name-calling. Nice." She added that "as in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land." Angle said McCain "brings no new ideas to the Senate floor."
"In fact, so unoriginal is Senator McCain's effort that he is reduced to borrowing words from an editorial — rather than bringing anything constructive to this debate," Angle said, remarks that were cheered on by tea party activists on Twitter and supported by O'Donnell.
On her Facebook page, O'Donnell said McCain was "attacking his own party and the very grassroots folks who can help drive a real solution."