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Donald Trump taps gut feeling that America's always right

After Mitt Romney's 2012 loss to President Barack

After Mitt Romney's 2012 loss to President Barack Obama, the Republican Party went through a period of soul-searching and determined that candidates needed to stop alienating Latino voters if they wanted to recapture the White House.

Enter Trump, who in his announcement speech accused the Mexican government of sending its criminals and rapists across the border and has proposed building a massive border wall and deporting every person in the country illegally.

He's thrived.

Romney, in contrast, earned plenty of grief merely by suggesting that people in the country illegally would deport themselves if the U.S. denied them work and public benefits. Credit: AP

Political popularity is simple: You promise people something they want and believe they deserve, and convince them you can deliver. This is worth pointing out because the question on everyone's lips is, "Oh my God, why do they like Donald Trump so much?" Explaining the Trump surge is now its own industry.

So what, exactly, is Trump promising that supporters want and believe they deserve? To quote another viral pop culture phenomenon, Charlie Sheen: "Winning." Winning decisively by beating other nations and other peoples because we're America, dammit!

Trump has tapped into a vehement strain of American exceptionalism. There is a sense that because we are America, every other nation should do what we demand, because . . . USA! USA! USA!

We're No. 1. Et cetera.

I get this. I'm patriotic. America is largely awesome. I love football and Chevrolets (although I drive a Toyota), and you don't want to get between me and apple pie. I know America is mostly better than most countries. But that doesn't mean they must do as we say.

The biggest gripe against the Iran nuclear deal is that it doesn't make the Iranians do everything we want. The argument for it is that President Barack Obama can't make China and Russia keep sanctions against Iran in place if we don't go for it. Either way, the idea that Obama is weak gets traction.

In fact, China, Russia and Iran don't have to do what we say. Ditto Syria and North Korea and Mexico. Ditto all our allies in Europe and elsewhere, and our foes, too. They may well think THEY live in the most important nation in the world. Each has pride, just as we do.

Trump got up in front of 20,000 people in Dallas on Monday and promised, "We will make America great again," and that's what his supporters wanted to hear.

There are truths in Trump's spiel, particularly about not letting China have the upper hand in trade. Ever notice in all the political arguing about Cuba, no one ever pipes up with, "Sir, you know China is a despotic murderous communist dictatorship hellhole, too, right? Sir?"

But there is no truth to the idea that when other nations don't do as we want, it's because our leaders are weak. President George W. Bush expended trillions in American cash and thousands of American lives, and yet do Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan now do what we want? Not so much.

Nothing brought this Trump attraction home for me better than the intersection of his campaign and the 14th anniversary of 9/11. I honor and mourn the nearly 3,000 people we lost that day when America was attacked. But I also understand that the Iraqi people mourn just as sincerely the hundreds of thousands of loved ones and friends, children and parents killed when we attacked there.

America isn't so exceptional that our innocent dead are more important than theirs. America isn't so powerful or righteous that other nations must do as we wish.

But people wish this weren't so. I often feel the same way. And along comes Trump, who promises the wins USA! USA! USA! thinks it deserves.

Never having been a politician, he has never broken his political word. He cannot be bought. And he also has tapped into a sense that everyone in the political establishment, regardless of party, regardless perhaps even of nation, is on the same team, with the common people as their enemy.

Trump cannot deliver on his promise to force the rest of the world to do as America demands. Other nations won't play along. But the only way to show his supporters that is to have him fail. And the only way he can fail to deliver is by being elected.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.