DONALD TRUMP, PERFORMANCE ARTIST…. There was a point not too long ago when it became reasonable to ask a simple question about Glenn Beck: is this guy for real? It seemed entirely plausible that the media personality wasn’t nearly as ridiculous as he was letting on, and was spewing nonsense just to get attention. Beck, in other words, may be far less crazy than he lets on, but revels in the act because the schtick works for him.

That debate was never really resolved — I still don’t know if Beck believes even half the things he says — but it’s probably time to start asking similar questions about reality-show host David Trump.

A couple of months ago, Trump discovered a way to get people to care about his political rhetoric — he’d start touting conspiracy theories. The more he’d repeat them, the more Republicans would like him, and the more television producers would book him. This in turn created a vicious cycle — Trump feels compelled to elaborate on the conspiracy, making up new details, and adding new twists and turns, which in turn makes the GOP’s hysterical wing love him even more.

But like Beck, there’s a problem with this tack. Namely, it requires the designated clown to keep pushing the envelope, making his stories even more ridiculous. Take Trump’s “interview” the other day with Sean Hannity.

“Look, he was born ‘Barry Soetero.’ Somewhere along the line, he changed his name,” said Trump — referring to the surname of Obama’s mother’s second husband, Lolo Soetoro, whom she married four years after Obama was born. “I heard he had terrible marks, and he ends up in Harvard. He wrote a book that was better than Ernest Hemingway, but the second book was written by an average person.”

“You suspect Bill Ayers?” said Hannity.

“I said, Bill Ayers wrote the book,” Trump replied.

Trump also added during the discussion: “He was best friends with Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers was a super-genius. And a lot of people have said he wrote the book. Well recently, as you know last week, Bill Ayers came out and said he did write the book.”

No sane person could believe any of this. The president was born Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., not Barry Soetero. He wasn’t best friends with Bill Ayers, Bill Ayers was never a super-genius, and when Ayers said he wrote Obama’s first book, he was being sarcastic, messing with the deranged right.

No one smart enough to tie their own shoes could actually believe what Trump told Hannity, which reinforces the suspicion that this is, once again, just an elaborate joke.

What’s more, yesterday Trump talked to TPM, and blasted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for dismissing Trump’s candidacy earlier this week. Trump said yesterday, “I think it’s a very bad thing for Cantor to have done, because I’ll tell you, people love this issue especially in the Republican Party.”

When TPM pressed on whether he’s actually hired investigators to dig up dirt on the president in Hawaii, Trump cut off the interview.

I have a hard time believing anyone is this stupid unless they’re trying to be stupid.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.