Buttons cover one of the tables at Frank Enten’s booth at CPAC. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.
In the very last stall, at the end of the farthest aisle in the convention room, there was a man selling buttons. Round metal litters the table, the messages spanning decades of political campaigns. A button inscribed with the motto “Viva Reagan” sits right next to “Sarah Palin 2012: In Your Heart You Know She’s Right.”
Frank Enten, known simply as “The Button Man,” has set up shop to sell his wares at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) since its inception 40 years ago. “I was here with CPAC when they only had 100, 200 people,” he said. That was circa 1973. Last week’s CPAC drew some 10,000 delegates who came to listen to speeches and panel discussions from big time conservative players, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and former Govs. Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin.
Most likely, Enten has or will have buttons for all of them. At age 83, he estimated he is the oldest vendor in Washington D.C. “I buy and buy and then I go out and sell and trade and I enjoy what I do.”
Frank Enten holds up one of his favorite buttons. The periodic symbol for gold, Au, and the symbol for water, H20, spell Goldwater. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.
Enten got his start collecting political buttons in the early 1960s. At the time, he was an insurance salesman. One day, he took a walk down to the government printing office to run some errands — coincidentally on John F. Kennedy’s inauguration day. For a dollar a piece, he bought two buttons as presents for his children. When he returned home, he showed his wife the buttons and she suggested he try selling them. “First two people I saw bought them from me for $2, so I said, ‘Hey that’s a good deal,'” he said. “I went down there and I bought a hundred of them for 50 cents a piece and then took them down by the White House and the Capitol and sold them, and there I was.”
From there, his business only grew. Enten kept acquiring buttons — buying them at political rallies and the national conventions, purchasing them wholesale. Last year he nabbed 40,000 buttons from a man who was going out of business. Enten has even had a hand in making buttons. In 1984, he produced over 1 million buttons for the Reagan campaign.
At CPAC, the button business seemed to be booming; lots of people stopped at Enten’s booth to sift through the buttons. At one point, his business partner turned to ask if $15 is a fair price for a large “To Hell with Fidel” button. Enten was quick with a reply: “Alright, let it go $15, but not lower. Those are rare.”
From his button booth, Enten has seen CPAC change over the years. “Every year, more people, young people come in and want to do what’s right for the country,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a growing group, even so, because what’s happening now. I think we are de- Americanizing this country, so I think we have to have more people like the group that’s coming here.”
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