Show me a conservative who voted for McCain for any reason unrelated to 1) the fear of a radical leftist running this country or 2) a love of Sarah Palin, and I will show you someone who wasn't really a conservative.
McCain should never have been chosen to represent the GOP. He was a RINO (Republican in name only), and as liberal a Republican as we could have nominated. He had no business at the top of the republican ticket because 1) he was not a conservative, 2) he could not inspire the conservative base, and 3) he could not inspire the American people.
Barack Hussein Obama is as liberal, radical, and as far left a candidate as any that has ever run for office on the Democratic ticket. He is an unrepentant socialist with communist tendencies, terrorist friends, and is beloved by the admitted enemies of America. With rhetorical flourish and empty statements Obama managed to inspire unprecedented support. He inspired the radical left wing of the Democrat party, he inspired millions of colored Americans who never believed they would see an African-American as president, he inspired millions of guilty white Americans, who believed it was time for an African-American president.
To that end, it is a historic election. I am glad we live in a country where there is no color barrier for the top job. I'm glad America is able to choose a black President, I'm just disappointed that the first African-American serving as President isn't a Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglas type... instead we have a socialist/communist/tied-to-terrorists/extreme-left-wing man in that role. But I do congratulate Obama. As terrible a choice as he was to be the first African-American President, at least he succeeded and broke down the color barrier.
So how is this a victory for conservatism? John McCain represented change and movement within the Republican party. John McCain was a step towards the left instead of a step to the right. Bush was not conservative enough. His big government tendencies and socialist buy-outs are evidence of his failure to follow in the steps of Regan. But as disappointing as President Bush has been in his second term, he would have looked far-right compared to a McCain Presidency.
If McCain had won, we still would have had 4 years of Democrat leadership in the Whitehouse, but we would have no-one to blame for the failures of the Democrat policies. If McCain had won, the leader of the Republican Party would have been a leftist. The republican base, the conservatives, would not have had a voice in their own party. If McCain had won, the message would be this: Republicans don't need conservatives or at least they don't need conservatives at the top of the ticket.
John McCain lost because he wasn't a conservative, could not inspire the conservative base, and without the base could not inspire the American people. Until he chose a conservative icon, Sarah Palin, as his runningmate, he could barely draw a crowd. Conservatives voted for McCain because of Palin, not because of McCain.
Conservatives lost in this election for the same reason they lost in 2006. They could not inspire voters to vote for their candidate and their strongest argument was why they shouldn't vote for the other candidate. That doesn't work. Fear of the opponent does not inspire Americans to vote. Only love of their candidate will do that. Barack was loved by his base, loved by his race, loved by the left, and this love inspired the American people to turn out and vote for him. John McCain did not inspire love from his base. Sarah Palin did, but not John McCain.
So what does the Republican party learn from this? First, they need a real conservative at the top of the ticket. Second, it must be a candidate that the base can love. A candidate that will inspire hope and not merely inspire fear of the alternative. This election is a conservative victory because we aren't stuck with 4 years of McCain. Despite the great victory for the political left, even in election defeat, conservatives can claim victory because in 2 years and in 4 years, we will not repeat the same mistake.