Romney Runs the Risk of Becoming Less Popular Than His VP Paul Ryan

"Leadership cred" isn't getting that much attention these days as we talk about Mitt Romney's VP choice (admittedly, Paul Ryan Gosling memes are far more interesting). But presidential elections, at their core, are contests between two contrasting leadership visions. 

You can also call it leadership cred. Or leadership mojo. It's a major thing that gets people out to vote for you. Mix in some inspiration, likeability, some fear, some game-changing ideas. It's what convinces people that the buck stops with you. Whatever the ingredients, however you pour it in a glass, you need solid leadership cred to gain the loyal confidence of Americans who will not only support you when Gallup calls, but when they actually mail in a ballot, show up on election day, or get others to vote for you.

Mitt Romney's leadership cred was low before Saturday. Domestically, his likeability ratings versus President Obama's were static, and the Democrats' Bain Capital and tax return offensives were working way too well. Internationally, the Brits made it clear he wouldn't be invited back to tea any time soon (and made Mitt eat crow with a smashing Olympics). 

So when Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate in front of the U.S.S.Wisconsin (really?) to the majestic orchestral swells of the Air Force One soundtrack (really??), it was clear Romney acknowledged that he was running a leadership deficit, and needed a game changer, fast. Picking deficit-hawk and slice-and-dice budgeteer Ryan, perhaps, would solidify Romney's campaign commitment to fiscal responsibility. 

Notice something: Romney needed to pick someone — other than himself — to show that he was committed to fiscal responsibility. 

Where's the leadership in that? Where's the ownership? Picking a number two to do the heavy intellectual thinking? (Didn't we already try that with Bush and Cheney?) Some are already calling the ticket "Ryan-Romney." (The Mittster himself isn't helping, accidentally calling Ryan "the next president.")

To make things even worse, in an 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, Romney stated that he has already presented his own budget plan, and it will supersede Ryan's. The problem is that Romney has never been detailed to the extent Ryan's has--and Ryan's plans, being specific and harmful to a lot of Americans, will be getting more of the attention. The more Romney is vague about his plan compared to Ryan's, the more publicly-attached he'll be to the draconian measures that Ryan is advocating. 

To be honest, I want President Obama and the Democrats to face off against Ryan's budget ideas. There's no question that it will make the contest better — there's a glimmer of hope that we'll start to have a real conversation based on policy differences, rather than party ones. Polls may show that Ryan's ideas are scary to a lot of voters — and he hasn't exactly generated a lot of excitement either — but if picking Ryan means we're going to have a higher-quality contest, game on! 

But until Mitt takes a stand, we'll be debating Obama's and Ryan's leadership visions — not Romney's. This presents a major — and sad — obstacle for the Romney campaign, in its effort to win the hearts and minds of voters in November.