With the utter collapse of the Russiagate narrative, you'll be seeing lots of postmortem attempts to figure out what went wrong (or right), and they will be using historical comparisons. McCarthyism, Watergate, Valerie Plame, Saddam had WMDs, etc.
The only one of those that remotely resembles Russiagate is the Valerie Plame affair, as I detailed earlier here and here. From that, it was easy to predict that nobody from the president's inner circle would be indicted, and that he himself would not be impeached. Fact check: true.
But after I started looking deeper into the parallels between today and the lead-up to the Civil War, I figured out the true historical echo for Russiagate -- the Know-Nothing phenomenon / party. See this post that outlines their structural similarities in extensive detail, and this follow-up that showed why McCarthyism is the wrong comparison.
Without going again into the specifics, the Know-Nothings were from the opposition coalition, favored the status quo rather than realignment, resorted to conspiracy theories about "authoritarian foreign influence" (the Pope) over their domestic electoral defeat that defied all odds, and used this rationalization as an excuse not to name and take on the true Powers That Be within our own country, delaying realignment for another full election cycle, and thereby making the explosion all the more catastrophic when it inevitably blew up.
In all these ways, they are identical to the status quo faction of the Democrats at the disjunctive end of the Reagan era, who pushed the Russiagate conspiracy theory to rationalize why the dominant party had just won against all odds.
The status quo Dems of today have invested so much in Russiagate not because they wanted to bring down the Republicans -- there are many ways to go about doing that, but they have done so in a way that has blocked their intra-party rivals from gaining momentum toward realignment. The true way to bring down Trump and the Reaganite GOP is to hammer them on the major issues of our crisis stage, and point to the groups responsible for our troubles -- e.g., the de-industrialization that has hollowed out the middle and working classes, which has been orchestrated by the manufacturing elites, who have gotten fantastically richer for free, widening inequality.
But that strategy would benefit the Bernie realignment camp of the opposition, who are busy building a coalition to deliver populist outcomes. The status quo faction wants to both attack the dominant party, while preventing their intra-party rivals from playing a central role in the attack.
This is the same as the Know-Nothings wanting to attack the Jacksonian Democrats, but only in a way that avoided the major issues of the day -- such as slavery -- and avoided blaming or challenging the groups in society who were causing the trouble, i.e. the Southern plantation owners. Instead of addressing the real problems at home, they conjured up a problem from outside -- the Pope's sway over Catholic immigrants caused them to vote Democrat.
So, the foreign conspiracy theories functioned to excuse the opposition for having run status quo candidates, rather than those who wanted realignment. The Whigs did not run an abolitionist in 1852, and the Democrats did not run a populist in 2016. This allowed the dominant party to run on issues of widespread appeal -- Pierce could convince voters he didn't want to expand the number of slave states, and Trump could convince voters he wanted to re-industrialize our economy.
This is the angle that most left/liberal critics have missed about the 2016 election, and Russiagate. The Bernie people will admit what a terrible candidate Clinton was, for running as an elitist during a populist climate. In their words, "she lost the most easily winnable election in US history, that's how bad of a candidate she was."
But it was not an easily winnable election -- the Dems were not running against a de-industrializing, warmongering, open-borders orthodox Republican, like McCain or Romney. They were running against a guy who said he wanted to reverse 90% of the Reagan revolution that had cemented the GOP's grip on power -- only siding with them on providing a tax cut, and putting conservatives in the courts.
Massive tariffs against US companies who have off-shored their production, risking counter-tariffs on US agriculture, exiting NATO and the rest of our global occupations, and shutting off the supply of cheap labor for employers (immigration) -- that was far more radical than what Bernie was proposing. (Trump has also been in favor of single-payer healthcare since the 1990s).
The Russiagate narrative thus also distracted from the strengths of the Trump campaign. If they were to admit these strengths, that would naturally lead the opposition to focus on how to steal those issues away from Trump -- imitate the successful, or go extinct. If it's protectionism and isolationism that Republicans -- and general voters -- want, then the Democrats will have to tack in that direction if they want to win a single election, let alone dethrone the GOP as the dominant party.
During the terms of Pierce and Trump, though, they failed to deliver the goods -- Pierce allowed Kansas to choose to become a slave state, and Trump has only driven up the trade deficit in goods to record highs, expanded our military footprint, and overseen the greatest skyrocketing of illegal immigration perhaps ever. The opposition ought to seize on those failures, and promise to deliver what the dominant party has failed to deliver for so many decades. The realignment factions of the opposition were happy to do that -- the nascent GOP to move toward abolition of slavery, and the Bernie Democrats toward economic populism and demilitarizing our foreign policy.
And yet the status quo faction of the opposition would lose if the dominant party were challenged in that way, since their whole raison d'etre is providing more of what has been going on, not something radically different, even if it's what voters now want. The conspiracy theories about the Pope and about Putin have allowed the status quo opposition to keep from being displaced by the realignment opposition, by distracting attention away from the real and major failures of the dominant party's administrations.
It's too early to tell, but I don't sense much change from the status quo Democrats even after the Mueller report ought to have shut them up about Russiagate. They may speak less about Russia specifically, but will move on to some other irrelevant line of attack on the Trump White House or the GOP -- rather than trying to out-Trump Trump on populism and anti-interventionism.
They show no signs of allowing only Bernie Sanders to compete against the Republican in 2020 -- either they will block his nomination for the Democrat ticket, or they will grudgingly let that go through but then run Biden or someone else as a spoiler. That goes for grassroots voters as well, not just party bosses -- the status quo Democrat voters show little sign of giving up on their delusions of the past several years, and enough of them will vote for the status quo Republican (or the Biden-esque spoiler) to defeat Bernie in 2020.
The solution is to use the collapse of Russiagate to point out why Clinton was a weak candidate, why Trump was a strong candidate, and how the realigner Democrat can steal Trump's decisive issues away from him and the GOP, rather than go on another wild goose chase with the status quo Dems. That will likely only bear fruit in 2024, but if the work does not begin now, it may wait until even later.