Moments before the Iowa Democratic caucuses kicked off Monday night, Bernie Sanders’ national campaign co-chair Nina Turner sparked fireworks on the MSNBC set when she repeatedly described billionaire Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg as an “oligarch.”
Criticizing the Democratic National Committee for overhauling its debate requirements in a clear move to allow Bloomberg to qualify moving forward, Turner told MSNBC host Chris Matthews that American voters are concerned about “the oligarchs” being able to buy their way into elections.
“Do you think Mike Bloomberg is an oligarch?” Matthews, taken aback, exclaimed.
“He is,” Turner shot back. “He skipped Iowa. Iowans should be insulted. Buying his way into this race, period. The DNC changed the rules. They didn’t change it for Senator Harris. They didn’t change it for Senator Booker. They didn’t change it for Secretary Castro.”
Matthews then asked if Turner believed Bloomberg bought his way into the debates, prompting the former Ohio lawmaker to declare that he “absolutely did” and it was a “stain on democracy.”
After Matthews finished interviewing Turner, anchor Brian Williams turned to MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson, who apparently also had a strong reaction to Turner’s assessment of Bloomberg.
“Calling Mike Bloomberg an oligarch has implications in this country that I think are unfair and unreasonable,” he huffed. “I disagree with a lot of things Mike Bloomberg has done as a mayor. Oligarchy in our particular terminology makes you think of a rich person who got their money off of oil in Russia, who is taking advantage of a broken and dysfunctional system.”
“Mike Bloomberg is just a rich guy,” Johnson continued. “Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean that you’re an oligarch that abuses power. The power that Mike Bloomberg got access to was given to him by the voters of New York... It ain’t the kind of language you should be using. I think it’s dismissive, unfair and it's the kind of thing that blows up in your face if you become the nominee and you have to work with Mike Bloomberg three or four months from now. That’s the issue Sanders people never seem to want to remember.”
Following a commercial break, MSNBC had Turner and Johnson debate her use of the term. The Sanders adviser, for her part, was unapologetic, saying it was “ironic” that “somebody would defend the wealthiest people in this country over the working people in this country.”
“That is the same message Bernie Sanders has to the everyday people of this nation, that I welcome the hatred of the elites because I am standing up for you,” she added. “So cry me a river for the wealthiest.”
Johnson, meanwhile, contended that his issue was what the word “oligarch” implied while also claiming that Turner herself worked for someone who’s part of the one percent, wondering if she would call Sanders an oligarch.
Things continued to get more and more heated between the two, with Turner accusing Johnson of name-calling and “defending somebody who is buying his way through democracy” while Johnson complained that this was “just how you guys operate.”
Eventually, at the end of the very tense exchange, Matthews asked if she wanted to change her word for Bloomberg.
“No, he doesn’t tell me what to say or how to change my words,” she emphatically replied. “My word stands!”