As Donald Trump has moved closer to the GOP nomination, two of Ted Cruz's loudest Republican critics have softened their tone on his candidacy. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Mitt Romney just endorsed Ted Cruz for president of the United States, over Donald Trump and John Kasich.

No, Romney didn’t put it in so many words. The “e-word” was not uttered in his brief Friday-afternoon Facebook post, and Romney doesn’t say he wants Cruz to be president. But the practical effect is the same.

Here’s the full post:

This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz.

Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism. Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.

The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.

I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.

I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.

So the logic here is simple: Vote for Cruz because he’s the only guy who can actually steal delegates from Trump and prevent him from winning before the Republican National Convention. At which point, who knows? Romney only says that the GOP would “nominate a Republican” — not saying whether that Republican is Cruz.

But here’s what’s amazing about all of this: Romney is just the latest big-name, establishment Republican to come out in support of Cruz — to one degree or another — in recent days. Lindsey Graham also did it. Even Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida seemed to suggest Cruz is the best option, saying he’s the “only conservative left.”

These are not full-throated endorsements. These guys would clearly like to have someone more in the mold of Romney or Rubio as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

Still, the fact that they are lining up behind Cruz is remarkable. For a while there, there was plenty of uncertainty about whether the Republican establishment hated Trump or Cruz more. And at one point, it seemed as if, given that choice, it would probably go with Trump.

Cruz is, after all, the guy who is reputed to be despised by the vast majority of his Senate colleagues — Republican and Democrat. He’s the guy Graham recently offered this joke about: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

That was a joke, but the sentiment behind it was very real. Graham said it less than a month ago.

It’s hard to overstate how universally unloved Cruz is inside the Republican establishment. And yet, here we are, with decidedly establishment Republicans lining up in his corner. And even though they suggest that it’s because it’s the only way to stop Trump, it's also true that if they're successful, a likely side effect would be that Cruz would be the nominee. Passing over both the top finisher and the second-place finisher at the Republican convention is probably wishful thinking.

It’s a stark statement about how desperate the Republican Party is these days.