The Arizona senator and former GOP presidential nominee singled out both Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, Tea Party-backed candidates who ran last year for Senate in Nevada and Delaware respectively.
Reading from a Wall Street Journal editorial that mocked Tea Party supporters as "hobbits" and criticized Tea Party-backed lawmakers for holding out on a debt-ceiling increase, McCain said: "This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees."
Angle issued a searing statement in response on Thursday, calling it "regrettable" that the senator has resorted to "name-calling."
"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 said, adding that "as in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land."
Further, Angle mocked McCain for borrowing lines from a newspaper editorial, instead of writing the Tolkien-laced critique himself.
"It is similarly unfortunate that Senator 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," she said.
O'Donnell also said on her Facebook page that McCain should stop "attacking his own party and the very grassroots folks who can help drive a real solution."
McCain invoked Middle Earth, as well as the former Senate candidates, in arguing that all-or-nothing Republicans were only hurting the debate over the debt ceiling. The Wall Street Journal editorial he read had accused some Republicans of mistakenly thinking a refusal to raise the debt ceiling would compel Democrats to grant their budgetary wishes.
"The idea seems to be if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue and the public will turn en masse against Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all the blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the Tea Party hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor," he said. "The reality is the debt limit will be raised one way or another. The only question now is how much fiscal reform and what political fallout."
In an interview afterward on Fox News, McCain denied attacking the Tea Party. "It was basically attacking the idea that somehow if we shut down the government that then Obama would get the blame and Republicans would triumph. I disagree," McCain said. "So, I wasn't attacking the Tea Partiers or anybody."
McCain also said he'd put his fiscal conservative record "up against anyone, Tea Party, non-Tea Party, anybody's."