MIAMI, Florida — Has Mitt Romney already lost his taste for risk-taking?
Less than 72 hours after tapping Paul Ryan to be his running mate — a daring choice that cast the GOP ticket as a pair of visionary reformers — the Republican nominee found himself on a baking airport tarmac Monday afternoon acting a lot like his old self: Dodging reporters' questions, avoiding specific policy prescriptions, and generally projecting the sort of fence-straddling caution that many thought he'd retired with his bold veep pick.
The headline from the press conference was Romney's refusal to explain how his vision of Medicare reform differed from that of his newly minted running mate. But that wasn't even his first instance of calculated evasiveness in the nine-minute press conference.
Romney began his remarks by offering his "thoughts and prayers" to the victims of the shooting near Texas A&M campus that had taken place earlier in the day.
"Clearly, there's going to have to be consideration given to how it is these tragedies could be prevented," Romney said, broadly. "I don't have the answer for you today, but it's something I'm gonna give thought to and I'm sure a lot of other people in the country will do the same."
But when a reporter asked whether he thought gun control should be part of the solution, Romney demurred, saying that he didn't personally associate violence with gun access, but offering no other potential solutions.
"I'm not referring to any particular legislation, I'm just saying that this is something that needs to take some thoughtful consideration," he offered.
When the press turned its attention to Medicare reform, Romney was similarly cagey. Despite days of his aides insisting that the nominee was not beholden to his running mate's lightning-rod budget proposal — a vision that is the sole reason for Ryan's fame, and his place on the ticket — Romney failed to answer four separate questions about where, exactly, he differed with Ryan. Instead, he said, "I can't imagine any two people who have exactly the same positions."
Reporters came away from the gaggle unclear on where Romney stood on the issue, Medicare, that could swing the election in Florida. The message was so muddled that, within hours, the campaign had to dispatch its chief policy wonk, Lanhee Chen, to clarify the candidate's position — a regular occurrence on the Romney trail, but something Ryan, a full-throated advocate for aggressive entitlement changes, has likely never had to do.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have always been fully committed to repealing Obamacare, ending President Obama’s $716 billion raid on Medicare, and tackling the serious fiscal challenges our country faces," said Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director, said in a statement. "A Romney-Ryan Administration will restore the funding to Medicare, ensure that no changes are made to the program for those 55 or older, and implement the reforms that they have proposed to strengthen it for future generations."
Campaign advisers did not respond to requests for elaboration, nor would they comment on the tension between the "bold reformer" brand being pushed by the Romney/Ryan campaign, and the instinctively cautious nature at the top of the ticket.
Other Republicans, however, were willing to give him a pass. GOP strategist Rick Wilson said the two have only been running together for a few days.
"I think they've accomplished the important mission: fire up the base, raise money, and get him staffed," Wilson said, adding that Ryan will get on board with whatever plan Romney introduces. "Ryan gets it. He's not running for budget director. He's not running to be the head of Medicare. He's running for Vice President, and Presidents make, set, and implement policy."
First, though, Romney will have to detail the policies he supports — something he's avoided doing his whole campaign.
In his final event of the day, Romney attended a jam-packed, slightly hectic rally outside a small business in Miami's thriving conservative enclave of Cuban-Americans. Romney's son, Craig, was on hand to speak Spanish to the attendees, and Senator Marco Rubio, a hero in this community, riled up the estimated crowd of 2,000 with soaring rhetoric about the American Dream.
But when Romney took the stage, he rushed through his standard stump speech with no mention of Cuba policy, or really any other fresh additions. It was old-school Romney: sticking to the economy-focused script.
Ana Navarro, a Hispanic outreach adviser to John McCain's 2008 campaign, was critical of Romney's failure to tailor his message or offer specifics — though she noted that he answered questions on Cuba and Veneuzuela in a local press interview beforehand.
"The event was clearly designed to appeal to Miami Hispanics but he could have been giving that speech anywhere," Navarro said. "For a guy who gets painted as not connecting, I don't see how it would hurt to put in a few phrases that appeal to the crowd hr's speaking to. He could have knocked it out of the ballpark by drawing a clear contrast with Obama on Cuba and Venezuela policy, and the crowd would have loved it."
Overall, though, Navarro said she was resigned to Romney's style.
"They have their model and they don't veer from it," she said. "He'll give the same stump speech and close with the same country music even if the audience would rather hear about bringing freedom to Latin America and listen to Salsa music."