Hillary Clinton’s prolonged contest with Mr. Sanders, whose campaign was not widely expected to survive the first few nominating contests, laid bare the cost of that restraint, both in style and substance.
As voters have gravitated to Trump’s unchecked impulsiveness and Mr. Sanders’s unabashed idealism, Mrs. Clinton has displayed little of either.
“This is not an incremental, cautious election, and being cautious is not her friend. Both primaries exposed the depth of anger and frustration and disgust. She has had to, and will have to, adjust to it,” Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said.
For 14 months, Clinton’s campaign has been out of step with younger voters and with swaths of an angry electorate that has demanded more than the competence and hard work she has promised.
Her difficulties with those voters could be a warning sign.
While her husband could draw on the crisp centrist philosophy of the “third way” Democrats in 1992, when he devoted his candidacy to the “forgotten middle class,” Mrs. Clinton has struggled to hit upon as simple and clear a rationale for her campaign. And, though she has issued the most detailed policy proposals and positions of anyone in the race, what she truly believes remains a mystery for many voters.
She has praised Barack Obama’s accomplishments over the past eight years, and won roughly 77 percent of the vote among blacks through the May 10 contests, according to exit polls. But she also promised to push harder than Mr. Obama in extending citizenship to undocumented immigrants, opposed his signature trans-pacific trade deal and outstripped his plans to defeat the Islamic State by calling for a no-fly zone in Syria.
She has praised her husband’s economic record as president and offered to put him in charge of reviving some of the hardest-hit regions. But Mrs. Clinton has also had to repudiate crucial parts of her husband’s legacy.
It has not helped that her campaign has cycled through a half-dozen slogans, from championing “everyday Americans” to “fighting for us,” “breaking down barriers,” and, most recently, “stronger together” — playing on Mr. Trump’s more divisive remarks about Mexicans, Muslims and other groups.
As Mr. Sanders has demonized Wall Street and Mr. Trump has disparaged immigrants, and as they have vowed to reverse economic malaise, Mrs. Clinton has run on a flinty practicality.
The most telling promise she has made is that she will not overpromise. “We don’t need any more of that,” she has told voters.
But what she has lacked in rhetorical brio, she has made up for by listening to people’s problems and prescribing solutions. She has shed tears in conversations with a man whose mother had Alzheimer’s and a woman who lost a child to a gun accident.
She has shown vulnerability that she did not reveal in 2008, when she campaigned as a strong would-be commander in chief, seeking to neutralise any doubts about whether she was tough enough for the Oval Office.
“I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” Mrs. Clinton said in one of her debates with Mr. Sanders, a bracingly honest statement.
To her supporters, there may be a kind of strange logic at work. Mrs. Clinton is somehow expected to project the mettle of a commander in chief, the charisma of a drinking buddy, the warmth of a favorite aunt, they say.
“You’re required to be touchy-feely and smiley and also required to grow a hide like an elephant,” said Tina Brown, the journalist. “Which is it?”
An impossible combination, they complain — and if she managed all that, there would no doubt emerge some other vital quality that she was failing to display, because there is no template yet for a female United States president.
“People are so undecided about how they feel about female leadership, and it’s something people really struggle with,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York. “The ambiguity about Hillary is outside of her. It comes from people’s own perspectives.”
Attitudes about female leadership eventually may change, of course. And in talking to reporters on Monday, hours before reports that she had clinched the nomination, Mrs. Clinton looked past November to a time when female presidential candidates may not require quite so much durability to have a shot at the White House.
“It is predominantly women and girls, but not exclusively, men bring their daughters to meet me and tell me that they are supporting me because of their daughters. I do think it will make a very big difference for a father or a mother to be able to look at their daughter just like they can look at their son and say, ‘You can be anything you want to be in this country, including president of the United States.’”

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