P.J. O'Rourke once called Hillary Clinton "a chowder-skull" and "a bossy little rich snoot of a goody-two-shoes." So it surprised a lot of people when the political humorist announced that he's voting for her. Clinton, O'Rourke said on the May 7 episode of the NPR show Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, was "the second worst thing that could happen to this country. But she's way behind in second place, you know? She's wrong about absolutely everything. But she's wrong within normal parameters!" Of the presumptive Republican nominee, he warned: "They've got this button, you know? It's in a briefcase. He's gonna find it."
Rand Paul once called Donald Trump "a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag" and said "a speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president." But the Kentucky senator—who, like O'Rourke, occupies the ideological space between a libertarian and a conservative—affirmed in April that if Trump won the Republican nomination, he would support him. "I think we never get the candidate we exactly want unless you're the candidate," he said at a press conference. "Think about it from this perspective. I'm from Kentucky, and Hillary Clinton recently said she would put coal miners out of business, and she would put coal companies out of business."
It's not unusual for libertarians to have a hard time backing either major party's presidential candidate, but the dispiriting choice between Clinton and Trump has even the most Republican-friendly members of the movement holding their noses. So reason decided to ask some prominent libertarian and libertarian-leaning figures which candidate offends them more. Unlike O'Rourke and Paul, the people surveyed below are not making endorsements here—many will be voting for a third-party candidate or staying home. They're answering a simpler question: not Who will you vote for? but Which one of these two is worse?
Washington Post blogger and former reason staffer
"Ugh. I guess I'd say Trump is worse. Clinton is at least a known commodity, and clearly better on trade and immigration, though even those are grading on a steep curve. Trump seems marginally less enthusiastic about starting wars, but who knows? He's been all over the place. On criminal justice, Clinton has a proven record of awfulness, but has vaguely vowed to do better. Trump has a record of demagoguing crime, has brought horrendous people like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie into his campaign, and has vowed a heaping pile of more awfulness as president. So I guess that one goes to Clinton. I'd imagine Clinton would be a standard center-left Democrat on tax, spend, and regulatory issues. Trump's policies could well be economically calamitous. So again, a begrudging nod to Clinton.
"It's probably also worth noting that as a white guy, I'm of a demographic that has the least to fear from a Trump presidency (and there's still plenty to fear). For Latinos, blacks, and Muslims, the prospect must be terrifying. So I guess in short, I'm thinking Clinton would be terrible. But Trump would be worse, and could be catastrophic."
novelist and newspaper columnist
"Speaking strictly as humor columnist, I believe that a Trump presidency would probably be funnier, assuming you don't care what happens to the nation. Whereas a Clinton presidency would be mainly grim. On the other hand—again, assuming you don't care what happens to the nation—it might be SO grim that it would actually be funny.
"So bottom line, I think that when the time comes to go into the voting booth and make a decision, I will just kill myself."
executive vice president of the Cato Institute
"I've heard libertarians say, 'We know how bad Hillary is, so the mysterious Trump is a better bet.' But we do know much about Trump. He's been clear and consistent on a few issues: banning and deporting Mexicans, building a wall around America, banning Muslims, and taking a sledgehammer to the world's most important trading relationship (between the United States and China). He is indifferent to federal spending and against entitlement reform. He thinks he doesn't need advisers or policies or principles. He has no earthly idea what he thinks about taxes, abortion, minimum wages, debt, health care, or most other issues. Most disturbingly, he shows disdain for Congress and the Constitution.
"A few libertarians have said that war is the greatest threat to life and liberty, and Trump is less hawkish than Clinton and most of the other Republican candidates. True, he has criticized the Iraq War and nation building and even read a speech proclaiming that 'unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.' But he has also promised to 'bomb the s—out of' ISIS and 'take out their families.' And his ignorance, anger, and impulsiveness about trade and immigration would surely make for rocky international relations.
"It's a tough choice for freedom lovers, maybe the toughest ever. For now I'm reluctantly inclined to agree with P.J. that 'she's wrong about absolutely everything. But she's wrong within normal parameters!' I work at a nonprofit and don't endorse candidates, but I do remember the (only) immortal words of Eugene Debs: 'It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.'"
half of the comedy/magic team Penn & Teller
"For many years I have believed two things about presidential politics: 1. Every major-party candidate was smarter than me. 2. There is no one worse than Hillary Clinton.
"I have been proven wrong on both of these this year."
Bloomberg View columnist and former reason editor
"That the president of the United States should not be a self-aggrandizing, xenophobic bully who scorns the rule of law, lacks a sixth-grade knowledge of how the government works, neither appreciates nor understands the decentralized workings of the economy, and believes conspiracy theories he reads in the National Enquirer shouldn't be something readers of reason need to be convinced of. But, alas, too many libertarians have convinced themselves that all politicians are equally terrible (correctly discerning that Hillary Clinton is awful in many ways) and that we'd be better off if someone would blow up the system. Clinton would still be subject to the checks that system provides, including the demand for a modicum of deference to the law. For the very reason that she is such a conventional politician, her opponents would know how to effectively oppose her. Trump would be much harder to counter and would simply ignore the checks on his powers, claiming—with some justification—a mandate for one-man rule."
professor of law at the University of Tennessee and blogger at InstaPundit.com
"I favor Trump over Clinton, on the theory that he will bring in a fresh crop of thieves, while Hillary will enable the current crop to burrow in deeper."
host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network
"It's just too horrible a choice to contemplate and I can't make a decision. I know Hillary will be bad. She wants to micromanage all life. Trump? Who knows what Trump will do. Maybe he'll stop bad wars and pandering to political correctness. More likely he'll start a trade war that will further destroy our economy."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Clinton vs. Trump: Who's Worse?".