Next month will see the release of a new book by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Judging by the title—Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge—it’ll be the most direct sign yet that Walker intends to parlay his battle with public-sector unions into a bid for the White House.

And the commentariat will probably eat it right up. Human Events named Walker their 2012 Conservative of the Year. Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips calls him “the best governor in the country.” “Keep an eye on him” for 2016, Byron York advises; “politically-savvy Republicans certainly are.”

Savvy’s not exactly the word I would use.

Conservatives revere federalism because we understand that most decisions are best made by those closest to them, not by distant, out-of-touch observers. So it’s aggravatingly ironic that many of our national pundits don’t apply that wisdom to evaluating state politicians’ presidential potential.

True, Walker scored a monumental victory against the Left at their worst. But since then, non-Wisconsinites would be shocked by how he’s squandered that momentum.

In January, Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal that he planned to chart a milder course for 2013: “We’re not going to do things that are going to bring 80,000 or 100,000 people into the Capitol It’s just not going to happen again.” The Journal reported:

“Walker now says building certainty and avoiding divisiveness is such a priority that he will push GOP lawmakers not to bring up certain bills important to conservatives, including some he may support, such as those to end same-day voter registration, restrict immigration, implement so-called ‘right-to-work,’ and overhaul the state Government Accountability Board.”

In other words, only govern as conservatively as liberals will let you. This undermined the whole point of beating the recall in the first place: even more important than enacting fiscal discipline was setting the precedent that the Left could no longer successfully dictate policy through intimidation. But rather than cement that precedent, Walker emboldened the Left with olive branches he should have known full well they wouldn’t reciprocate.

“Unintimidated,” indeed.

Nor has his approach to economic growth been as boldly conservative as Beltway talking heads would have you expect. In March, the Tax Foundation reported that Wisconsin still has America’s fifth worst business climate, with the tenth highest individual income tax and a corporate income tax in the top third, yielding just 60,000 of the 250,000 new jobs Walker promised to create during his first term. State Republicans chided his proposed budget for not cutting taxes nearly enough. On May 30, eleven GOP Assembly members wrote a letter declaring, “we cannot both represent our constituents and our conservative principles by supporting the budget in its current form.”

School choice fans lamented that he capped voucher expansion at another 500 students next year and 1,000 the year after. Not only has he failed to rein in drunken transportation spending, he wanted to borrow $1 billion to feed it. And most bafflingly, he actually proposed $129 million in increased funding for the very education establishment that conducted itself so charmingly last year—undermining yet another lesson of his previous victories, that blank checks aren’t the key to schools’ success.

Beyond Wisconsin, Walker seems unwilling to provide leadership in the culture wars. In March, when David Gregory asked about shifting Republican views on gay marriage, Walker dismissed it as an artifact of the generation gap, saying that young conservatives “don’t want to get focused on those issues.” No word on whether they’re right to ignore them; to Walker, that’s just “all the more reason […] I talk about the economic and fiscal crisis” instead.

And perhaps worst of all, he’s open to citizenship for illegal immigrants, going so far as to say in July, “You hear some people talk about border security and a wall and all that; to me, I don’t know that we need any of that.” Amnesty is a Democrat scam to import millions of dirt-poor potential voters to addict to government services. The result: permanent one-party domination of a welfare state that will never shrink again, never disentangle itself from the private sector, never end the slaughter of unborn babies, or see any other major conservative reform. No leader who fails to recognize this is fit to occupy the White House.

Conservatives have been so starved for leadership, so desperate to believe the Second Coming of Reagan is just around the corner, that we’ve repeatedly burn ourselves by prematurely anointing and idolizing conservative saviors that turn out to be duds (see, for example, Fred Thompson and Rick Perry). If we’re going to take back the White House, we desperately need more stringent, detached vetting that starts with the qualities a president needs, then seeks a candidate who genuinely possesses them…and is willing to reconsider in light of new facts. The comforting fantasies are killing us; this might be our last chance to grow up.