Senior reporter

If anything illustrates the state of the Trump-ified Republican Party now, it may be this.

In 2016, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam endorsed Donald Trump for president. But he also joined many fellow Republicans in denouncing Trump’s most controversial comments. When Trump attacked the parents of a fallen war hero, the Khans, Putnam called the comments “dishonorable.” Putnam added: “He keeps running his mouth about the most ridiculous things and attacking a family who has sacrificed so much for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

A couple of months later when The Washington Post first reported on the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump mused about grabbing women “by the pussy,” Putnam bucked again. “Even by the base standards of this campaign season, his comments were vile and obscene,” Putnam said, echoing pretty much every major Republican, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Fast-forward to today. For calling the idea of grabbing women by their genitals “vile and obscene,” and for repudiating attacks on Gold Star parents, Putnam is being attacked himself.

At a debate Wednesday, his Trump-backed gubernatorial primary opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, threw these comments back in Putnam’s face (without, of course, talking about what episodes they emanated from).

“This is a guy who, when we were trying to beat Hillary Clinton, said Trump was vile, obscene, dishonorable,” DeSantis said. “Never showed up at a single rally. He could have put his picture on a milk carton; no one knew where he was during the campaign.”

DeSantis is favored to win the primary, in large part because of his efforts to associate himself in nearly every way with Trump. He ran arguably the most obsequious ad to date of any Republican seeking to define themselves as the Trump candidate in a Republican primary.

So it’s not surprising that DeSantis would use these quotes to attack Putnam. This is a tried-and-true strategy in GOP primaries.

But it also sends a specific message to other Republicans: Any criticism of Trump — even in cases in which the vast majority of Americans agreed Trump went too far — can and will be used against you, possibly out of context. Any questioning of Trump is not okay and is a sign of squishiness.

These are now the rules of engagement, and they are exactly why only Republicans with no real future ambitions are willing to criticize even the most objectionable things Trump does. It has effectively created speech codes within the GOP. And if DeSantis wins the primary, it will be the latest proof that Trump is He Who Shall Not Be Questioned.