But the dentist videos, with a shot of his teeth getting worked on, represented perhaps a new level of intimacy. The story began with an image of his face stuffed with dental tools, the rubber-gloved hands of a dental hygienist nearby.
“So,” O’Rourke said, as the technician removed the tools from his mouth, “I’m here at the dentist."
The videos were the latest example of O’Rourke’s comfort with social media — a free way to generate attention, media headlines and an aura of authenticity in the social-media-driven news era. While Donald Trump catapulted to the presidency after redefining the way politicians use Twitter — a tactic now deployed with aplomb by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — O’Rourke has gone further, giving the public a window into many seemingly mundane but intimate moments of his life on live stream on Facebook.
His ability to captivate the attention of voters — and the news media — and attract fundraisers has made him the topic of unceasing speculation about the 2020 race, despite his loss in the Senate contest.
O’Rourke had been streaming stories about the border since President Trump’s speech Tuesday. While the president painted the border as a lawless place in such crisis that it needs a wall to be built immediately, O’Rourke walked through El Paso in the dark to make a point about how calm the areas near the border are. On Wednesday, O’Rourke had posted a video that featured a woman from another border outpost, McAllen, talking about how safe the city is.
On Thursday the subject of his micro-documentary was Diana, his dental hygienist. He switched the camera to face her.
“Hi, I’m Diana,” she said through her mask, with her work spectacles and headlamp on. “I was actually born in El Paso. My mom is from a small town in Mexico. . . . My dad is a U.S. citizen."
Diana spoke about the experience of growing up near the border and the help her mother was offered as she worked to become a citizen.
“When she was studying to become a citizen, the neighborhood really helped her out,” Diana said. “They would record videotape. . . so she could learn more English, and that way she’d be able to pass her citizenship. The entire neighborhood was there when she did, and it was wonderful.”
O’Rourke asked her what she wanted people to know about the border.
“It’s a beautiful community — we all support each other. We all love each other,” she said. “It’s not what everyone else thinks badly about. It’s actually a wonderful place to live and grow.”
O’Rourke’s live-streaming has been a part of his growing celebrity profile. He told The Washington Post in September that he had taken note of how well “Trump was able to leverage his popularity and the fact that everybody did know him, and there was this thing they liked about him.”
Other O’Rourke streams have included him eating chips and guacamole while driving, slicing flank steak, getting a haircut and skateboarding.
“Somebody asked, boxers or briefs?” O’Rourke said from a laundromat in South Texas as he held up a wet piece of clothing. “These are like boxer briefs.”