Republicans are increasingly following suit, both in Iowa, where authorities on Tuesday charged with Tibbetts’ murder a man they say is an undocumented immigrant, and in other states where immigration policy could affect both primary and general election contests.
“What happened to Mollie was a disgrace, and our hearts go out,” Trump said while speaking to Republicans in Ohio Friday.
After mentioning two other examples of crimes committed by an undocumented immigrant, he added: “Democrat immigration policies are destroying innocent lives and spilling very innocent blood. We believe that any party that puts criminal aliens before American citizens should be out of office, not into office.”
“Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman, is now permanently separated from her family,” he said. “A person came in from Mexico, illegally, and killed her. We need the wall. We need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed, we need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it.”
Particularly in Iowa, where the homicide occurred, the issue has been used to attack Democrats.
Asked if certain statements would make her more or less likely to support Axne, the caller said:
“Recently, a University of Iowa student named Mollie Tibbetts was murdered by an immigrant in the country illegally. But Cindy Axne wants to join extreme liberals to abolish ICE, an immigration agency responsible for enforcing our borders and tracking down criminals who are in the US illegally.”
In a brief interview with CNN, Axne called efforts to politicize the death “unconscionable to me” and said that while she believes the US immigration system is “broken” and in need of legislative repair, “abolishing ICE is absolutely not the solution.”
“I called on Congressman Young to shut this down,” she said of the poll, “and whether it was him or one of his allies, I think out of respect for Mollie’s grieving family that he needs to make sure that this is taken out of the field as soon as possible.”
“Our campaign has nothing to do with this poll and we have no knowledge of who may be behind it,” spokesman Cole Staudt told CNN earlier Friday. Young, he added, was on the record saying “he didn’t want to politicize this tragic event.”
Iowa Republicans, from Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is also on the ballot this fall, to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have made clear connections between Tibbetts’ death and US immigration policy.
“The families who are separated at the border will come together again,” Ernst wrote. “Mollie will never be with her family again.”
Fred Hubbell, the Democrat running to unseat Reynolds this fall, criticized state Republicans over their response on Thursday.
Tibbetts’ death has also become a talking point for some Republicans outside the state — and not just for the purpose of attacking Democrats.
Kelli Ward, a GOP Senate candidate in Arizona, used the killing to target fellow Republicans over their border policy positions.
McSally is the frontrunner in next week’s primary.
In teeing up the piece, communications director Jake Wilkins called on Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is facing a challenge from GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer in November, to “talk with the families and victims terrorized by criminal illegal immigrants before attempting to dismiss this issue as just a Republican scare tactic.”
Republicans have attacked Heitkamp, whose seat in a state Trump won by more than 35 percentage points in 2016 is among the season’s most coveted, for voting against measures to withhold some federal money from “sanctuary cities.”