Apprehension over what the countdown clocks imply could be an apocalyptic default after August 2 isn’t the only storm brewing under the debt ceiling. Cracks in the Republican Party are now deeper than ever, culminating in a showdown between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 2010 tea party-backed Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, McCain invoked a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that likened tea partiers’ obduracy on the debt-ceiling to a scenario in which “the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.” McCain called this purported tea party strategy, as laid out in the Journal op-ed, “the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.”
Angle hit back early Thursday with “a statement from a ‘TEA Party Hobbit.’”
“Ironically, this man campaigned for TEA Party support in his last re-election, but now throws Christine O’Donnell and I into the harbor with Sarah Palin,” Angle wrote, referencing McCain’s fractured relationship with his 2008 vice presidential running mate. “As in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land. This Lord of the TARP actually ought to read to the end of the story and join forces with the TEA Party, not criticize it.”
By the time Angle responded, McCain had already backpedaled, insisting Wednesday night on Hannity that he actually “admires” the tea party and was using the op-ed to demonstrate the advantage President Obama would hold over Republicans if they continued to stand off on budget negotiations, particularly the proposal put forth by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
But his floor speech came just hours after one tea party group suggested it take steps to oust Boehner, calling him “part of the old guard” and criticizing his plan for failing to live up to the promises the movement’s members made during the 2010 midterm elections. As attention shifts now to the 2012 presidential race, one thing to watch is whether such intra-party shots will inspire a third-party candidate from the right – all but ensuring Obama’s reelection, as McCain lamented.
This article appears in the July 28, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.