Be Different. Be Principled.

In retrospect, we should have seen Trump coming.

According to Gallup, for twelve straight years — since January 2004 — more Americans have said our country is on the wrong track than headed in the right direction. Today only 23 percent of Americans think we are on the right track.

Frustrations have boiled over to the point where now, having sifted through a cast of thousands, the finalists for the most powerful job in the world include a self-avowed socialist and a carnie showman. This is not the stuff of a well-adjusted society.

Whether Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee or not, his candidacy has exposed already deep fault lines within both our country and the Republican Party. Believe it or not, this is a golden opportunity for conservatives.

As words become more bitter and tempers become hotter, if conservatives are to lead, we must choose one of two paths before us, each with very different outcomes.

One is violent and rocky, laced with hate and darkness. It’s a lonely road.

The other is smooth and the footing sure — not easy, but proven.

Obviously, this is not a hiking column, but hopefully this thin metaphor will allow our leaders to pause for a moment. Many seem to have forgotten that we actually have a choice about the vision we share for America.

Sure, it can be full of hate and insults. We can stir up outrage and make everyone angry. And we will lose.

Or, we can tell the story of freedom. We can talk about what creates opportunity. We can push for reforms that impact people every day and lift the cloud of misery that has hung over our nation for nearly a decade.

The path we should be taking, the one that leads us to more freedom and opportunity, is the one founded on America’s timeless principles. Our success as conservatives and as Americans lies in trusting the principles that have historically been the foundation of our views about government, economics and culture.

We know these ideas — free markets, rule of law, property rights, limited government — work. Not all Americans embrace the founding principles in word, mostly because these concepts have been so poorly represented. But most Americans still carry hope for freedom and opportunity in their hearts — the very outcomes these principles produce.

Anyone looking to separate themselves from Trump’s controversies — and the inevitable rejection by independent voters — will be well-served by a platform based on re-introducing America’s founding principles as the guiding light of the 21st century.

Focusing on conservative principles does not have to be separate from the fears, concerns and anger felt by Americans every day. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, successfully advocates founding principles to non-partisan audiences by relating them to the fight against poverty.

Here’s how Dr. Brooks talked about founding principles in a recent speech:

“There are five reasons that two billion of our brothers and sisters have been pulled out of poverty since I was a kid. Number one: globalization. Number two: free trade. Number three: property rights. Number four: rule of law. Number five: entrepreneurship. It was the free enterprise system spreading around the world after 1970 that did that.”

His remarks weren’t delivered at CPAC. He gave this speech in Vancouver at a TED Talks event. At a forum typically dominated by left-leaning philosophies, Dr. Brooks took his unique approach to founding principles, put them in the context of fighting poverty, and walked away with a standing ovation.

For the last twelve years, most Americans have felt like we’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s time for bold, innovative solutions. It’s time to tell the story of why conservative ideas work. It’s time to draw people toward the inclusive power of the ideas that actually made America great.

The path to success for conservatives will not be to embrace insults and isolation as best practices, but to be different. Authentic, energetic, innovative. And principled.

Our journey down either path will be long, but effective principles are far better provisions than insults and demagoguery. Our moment of choosing is here. We must choose principles.