"What's that old saying? First they mock you, then they imitate you and then they become you," he said. "And that's how I feel about libertarianism."
For others — all of those Ron Paul backers, in particular — the means to an end is working within the Republican Party to fundamentally transform it, quieting cultural conservatives and emphasizing instead a message of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance that could attract new blood.
In Nevada, that translated into so-called "Paulists" winning seats first to several county GOP committees, then to the state Republican committee. Now both of the state's representatives to the Republican National Committee are libertarian-leaning, as are 22 of the 28 delegates heading to the GOP convention in Tampa.
Places like Maine, Minnesota and Iowa have followed that model.
"Ron Paul supporters are now a near-controlling majority of the Maine Republican Party," said Brent Tweed, 33, a nuclear engineer and self-described "libertarian conservative" who was elected a GOP convention delegate. Tweed started researching libertarianism in 2004 after growing disillusioned with the size of government under President Bush. He sees the movement growing in Maine and beyond.
"We will only get bigger and, eventually, we will win. Do I think it's going to happen in five years or 10 years? No. But I think it's inevitable," he said. "People will be drawn to the freedom message."
In Nevada, the Bunce brothers liken their efforts to training a farm team. Their goal is to get libertarian-minded politicians elected to county and state office, then to Congress and perhaps, one day, the White House. Not unlike the man they revere, they know that not so long ago they were considered on the fringe of politics in their state. Now they are inside players, controlling the infrastructure of the Republican Party at both the state level and in places like Clark County, Nevada's largest.
To any remaining naysayers, they warn that this is neither a passing fad nor a "Ron Paul phenomenon" that will fade once he's gone from the scene. They see hope in other up-and-coming libertarian-leaning Republicans: Justin Amash, a Michigan congressman seeking re-election whom Reason magazine christened "the next Ron Paul"; Kurt Bills, a Minnesota state representative who is running for U.S. Senate; and, of course, Rand Paul.
"Everything we've done up to this point is based on ideas. ... It carries on well past Congressman Paul," said Carl Bunce. "Hopefully we'll start to bring more voters to bear into the Republican Party — all those apathetic voters that were like myself."
When that happens, he said, "our ideas of liberty and freedom will persist."
Pauline Arrillaga, a Phoenix-based national writer for The Associated Press, can be reached at features(at)ap.org.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.