Alfred Hitchcok told us that the difference between “surprise” and “suspense” lies in how much the audience knows. For Donald Trump, the difference between surprise and suspense is between 2016 and 2024.
Hitchcock understood that the anxiety about something that will happen is different from being startled “at the moment of the explosion.” And when Trump won the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, it came after a lot of moments of explosion.
There was some suspense at the end as Trump slowly, inevitably wrung the necks of the last candidates standing and the “contested convention” nonsense sputtered to its obvious conclusion. But prior to that, he was full of surprises—all the way back to the would-he-or-wouldn’t-he talk of springtime eight years ago.
Even after Trump was the Republican frontrunner, it wasn’t uncommon to hear politicos and pundits wonder whether he was really running to win or not. (Imagine thinking that the guy leading the race was going to quit while he was ahead.) It was true that Trump did not know what he was doing, but that added to the madcap energy of the outsider, the television star either oblivious to or disdainful of every rule. Not only did it keep Trump’s opponents, who were playing the old, grinding game, off balance, but the genuine spontaneity of the campaign kept the media’s rapt attention.