Clearly, the Republican leaders in New York State bungled this race badly. They should have nominated someone with moderate leanings, but more conservative than Scozzafava, perhaps someone who was pro-choice, but not pro same-sex marriage, for example. In New York major party politics is traditionally more corrupt, pork-oriented and less ideological than in some other states, so I guess the county leaders were tone-deaf regarding conservative sentiment in this case.
Contrary to my co-author and friend Hans however, I think that by undermining the GOP nominee the right-wingers certainly were bolting and did so first. If factions in a party do not respect their own nomination process that is a big problem for it. Alan Ware has shown that part of the reason party leaders supported the creation of the Australian ballot and, some years later, the establishment of primaries was that they needed a nomination process that would appear legitimate to losers in order to minimize splits. Part of being a successful party is accepting that you fight your fight inside the organization and then respect its verdict. I can see why various conservatives thought it was in their interest to bolt, even if it meant losing this seat to a Democrat, but that’s clearly what they were doing.
I can also see how conservatives (and Hans) would think that Scozzafava’s endorsement of Owens vindicates their attack on her in retrospect, but for politicians politics is often quite personal. Scozzafava is understandably embittered and her endorsement does not show that she would not have been a real Republican, albeit a moderate, had she been elected to the House. Her decade of service in Albany would seem to be more probative than her lashing out in anger following the extraordinary treatment she received. More speculatively, it seems less likely that she would have endorsed the Democrat had she simply been defeated in a GOP primary.
Relatedly, the fact that Scozzafava was nominated, not in a primary, but by local party leaders, while in keeping with the New York law for special elections, probably undermined her legitimacy once she was scrutinized. This is only one case, but as far as it goes it tends to undermine claims that party leaders would choose candidates more wisely than ordinary primary voters do.
Finally, the fact that the party label cut so little ice with voters has two implications: it supports claims that the scope of “party revival” has been overestimated at least in terms of affect and allegiance and suggests that party identification, which in many formulations is distinct from ideology, is probably not all that it is cracked up to be in the literature.