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The flaw in Romney's anti-Trump gambit

Mitt Romney is making his most overt intervention in the 2016 campaign to date, but he's doing so in the strangest and least effective way possible.
Mitt Romney gives a speech on the state of the Republican party at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on the campus of the University of Utah on March 3, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty)
Mitt Romney gives a speech on the state of the Republican party at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on the campus of the University of Utah on March 3, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As recently as Sunday, Mitt Romney conceded that Donald Trump is "probably most likely to be the Republican nominee" for president this year, but the failed 2012 candidate still believes he can help prevent such an outcome.

In his new role as Donald Trump's chief adversary, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has turned his alarm-fueled message into a robocall on behalf of struggling GOP contender Sen. Marco Rubio, NBC News has confirmed. Romney's warning is coming to a phone near you in four states voting Tuesday: Michigan, Idaho, Hawaii and Mississippi.

As a rule, when prominent officials record automated messages on behalf of a campaign, it's effectively an endorsement, but this case is a little unusual. Romney, who's said he'll officially back a GOP candidate sometime after next week's primaries, isn't yet urging voters to support Rubio, so much as he's encouraging Republicans to vote for someone other than Trump.
As the New York Times reported, Romney's call explicitly says he's calling on Rubio's behalf, but at no point does Romney actually say anything about Rubio or his candidacy. Instead, the former governor urges voters to cast ballots for "a candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton and who can make us proud." The message goes on to say, "If we Republicans were to choose Donald Trump as our nominee, I believe that the prospects for a safe and prosperous future would be greatly diminished -- and I'm convinced Donald Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton."
Note, this call is reportedly being paid for by the Rubio campaign, which is pushing the message in each of the four states holding nominating contests today. I can't recall a similar robocall that fails to ask voters to support the candidate paying for the message.
If I had to guess -- and this is admittedly just speculation -- I'd say Romney wanted to keep his message as generic as possible in case he decides to endorse Ted Cruz or John Kasich, and Team Rubio accepted the terms because, right about now, the senator will take help wherever he can find it.
The broader question, however, is whether this is likely to move the needle. Romney delivered a very high-profile speech last week condemning Trump, and the former candidate did his best to reinforce the message with a series of national television interviews. And since that time, the national polls have barely budged.
There's no reason to believe GOP voters, en masse, actually care what Mitt Romney wants them to do. On the contrary, there are many in the party that look back at Romney's previous campaigns as proof that his judgment just isn't worth listening to.
And even among those inclined to take the former candidate seriously, the fact that he hasn't endorsed anyone, and he simply wants Republicans to vote for someone who isn't the party frontrunner, makes his guidance effectively meaningless. "Vote for one of the other guys" is the kind of advice anti-Trump voters already figured out on their own.