WASHINGTON — Two and a half years ago, it was easy to find Republicans who were outraged by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But today, they’re much, much harder to find.
And that has been one of the most striking transformations in our politics — especially after Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony this week, and even the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference.
Here was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in January 2017, after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in the ’16 election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
“In a couple weeks, Donald Trump will be the defender of the free world and democracy. You should let everybody know in America, Republicans and Democrats, that you're going to make Russia pay a price for trying to interfere,” he said on “Meet the Press” back then.
“Even though it didn't affect the outcome, they tried to interfere. And they need to pay a price. And I don't care what their motives were,” Graham added.
And here was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at the end of the 2016 general election: “I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these [WikiLeaks] leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.” (Well, guess who was capitalizing on those leaks…)
Now compare those reactions in 2016-2017 with the questions from Republicans during this week’s Mueller hearings — on Fusion GPS, the Steele dossier, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
It was a lot less outrage at Russia’ intervention. (Rubio’s office, however, reminds us that he has continued to press for ways to combat election interference.)
The frog has boiled so slowly over the last two and a half years, we haven’t fully appreciated how President Trump and his allies have reprogrammed the Republican Party — on one of the biggest political stories in our lifetime.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Robert Mueller told Congress on Wednesday.
“The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.”
Will Democrats take the middle ground on impeachment?
Are House Democrats getting closer to taking a middle ground on impeaching President Trump — pursuing an impeachment inquiry without impeachment?
Here was Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “Now, many of us have come forward, indicating that we want to see an impeachment inquiry started. And I think the leader, frankly, is coming closer to that way of thinking,” she said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It is a lot easier for Democrats to explain why they don’t impeach President Trump – because the Senate math is stacked against them.
But it’s harder to explain why they wouldn’t even open an inquiry.
2020 Vision: Biden’s back to being the clear frontrunner — for now
One month after his poor debate performance, Joe Biden is back to being clearly on top of the 2020 Democratic race.
A national Fox News poll shows him leading his nearest competitor, Bernie Sanders, by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
In South Carolina, per a recent Monmouth poll, Biden’s ahead of Kamala Harris by nearly 30 points, 39 percent to 12 percent.
On the campaign trail
Today: Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bill de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand take their turn addressing the National Urban League conference in Indianapolis… Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro are in Iowa… Buttigieg also hits the Hawkeye State… Tim Ryan travels to South Carolina… And Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Santa Monica, Calif.
Saturday: Buttigieg and Castro remain in Iowa… Michael Bennet joins them in the Hawkeye State… Elizabeth Warren campaigns in New Hampshire… And Ryan stumps in South Carolina before heading to the Granite State.
Dispatches from NBC’s embeds
Mark Sanford, who’s still weighing a potential primary challenge against President Trump, spoke to voters in South Carolina on Thursday.
NBC’s Jordan Jackson reports what he said about a potential Republican primary, “I think that parties are ultimately made stronger as a consequence of debate rather than weaker. So that’s my take. I get the history on this, but my take is that if we don’t have a debate as Republicans about what we believe in spending, there will be an electoral consequence both in the near term and the long term.”
And Bernie Sanders held a town hall in Los Angeles, where NBC’s Gary Grumbach provides some color from the event. “This was a very loud, packed theater. Hundreds of folks here, very diverse in age and race. One audience member pointed out Sanders is the first presidential candidate to hold a public event in this neighborhood since Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president back in the 1980s. Loud, appreciative cheers after that comment.”
Data Download: The number of the day is … 63 percent
That’s the share of American voters who say that President Trump’s recent tweets at four minority Democratic congresswomen – in which he told them to go back to the countries they came from – crossed the line, per a Fox News poll.
Just 27 percent say it was an acceptable attack.
Also in the poll: 57 percent disagree that Trump respects racial minorities, and 56 percent believe saying “go back” to the country you came from is a racist thing to say to a person of color.
The Lid: Good news, bad news
Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the good news and the bad news in that recent Fox News poll.
ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss
A new Senate Intelligence Committee report details "extensive activity" by Russia to try to interfere in U.S. elections.
Democrats are heading into a long recess without resolution on what to do next on impeachment.
Here's the deal with how the president ended up standing in front of a parody presidential seal this week.
Puerto Rico's governor is out. But new questions are swirling about his successor.
Despite a lot of GOP "no," votes, the House has passed its budget bill.
Julian Castro is the first 2020 candidate with a comprehensive plan for indigenous communities.
Trump agenda: Why are active duty troops at a Border Patrol facility?
Active-duty U.S. troops are now stationed inside a Border Patrol holding facility in Texas.
The U.S. government will start executing inmates for the first time since 2003.
2020: What the Hick?
The New York Times asks: Why is John Hickenlooper still in the race?
In the New York Times Magazine: "Joe Biden Wants to Take America Back to a Time Before Trump."
A big question for Dems in 2020: Can they win enough black voters without Obama?
Tom Steyer says he'll declare a national emergency to take on climate change.