Rachel Maddow has had an "aha" moment which is sort of hilarious but is also sort of scary. Basically she's decided that Herman Cain is a joke—not in the sense that we all know he's a joke because he has very few qualifications to be president and also has overly simplistic policy ideas and does incredibly stupid things like harass women. No, she thinks he is a joke in the performance art sense—like he is the Borat of Republican presidential candidates. Is that even possible? Could someone run for president as a joke and get this far? Maybe? Yes? Or maybe he's not even in on the joke?

Maddow presents a pretty impressive barrage of evidence in this segment, which is worth watching but is also very long. So if you don't have 14 minutes to spare, here's her basic proof, which either points to Cain being the second coming of Palin the Comically Incompetent or points to a vast right-wing conspiracy to perpetrate political performance art (and destroy itself in the process):

-First there was the Republican presidential debate where Cain quoted a line from a "poet" who turned out to be Pokemon. By itself this is dumb, but not especially meaningful. Maddow now says this is when the whole charade should have begun and ended...and yet it did not.

-Next came his infamous 999 tax plan. When pressed to explain where it came from, he first said it, "was a secret." Then he said it came from a guy who, "works at the local Wells Fargo branch on Chagrin Blvd in a place called Pepper Pike, Ohio." That is a real place, but you know where else they have a 999 plan? In Sim City, which Maddow points out, is a "fake place." Hmm. Moving on!

-Herman Cain recently published a book called This Is Herman Cain! In that book, chapter nine is all about Cain's lucky number 45. That's weird enough, but then when you realize that 4 + 5 = 9, things get deep. Whoa, man, what is he trying to tell us with all these nines?

-So, he releases this book and starts polling well, but unlike most frontrunners, he never sets up a full staff in many of the key states—something that is highly unusual, to say the least. Is he just stupid or is he playing us?

-Another weird (and telling?) moment: when Herman Cain is asked about it, he doesn't deny he's the "Republican flavor of the month." In fact, he does one better and says that he's a specific flavor: Häagen-Dazs Black Walnut. He claims, "Black Walnut has staying power," but it actually doesn't because it was a limited edition flavor that's no longer made. Is Cain's crime simply that he's out of touch with dessert choices, or is he trying to tell us something bigger, something that goes all the way to the top?

-OK, here's the really depressing point, whether he's real or a joke: He doesn't know anything about policy. He admittedly faked an answer on the Palestinian "Right of Return," he does not know what neo-conservatism is, and he can't explain what being pro-life means. And we can't forget this famous quote: "When they ask me who the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. I'm gonna say, you know, I don't know. Do you know?" Something is definitely wrong with that answer, but is he, as Maddow claims, "trying to let us in on the joke" with this crap? This is starting to get scarrrrrry.

So, if you let yourself go there, when it's all laid out, it does start to look mighty suspicious. In the words of Maddow, "A string of supposed gaffes like that is not found in nature." Is he hoodwinking us all? Maddow says yes: "This is about politics, but this is not politics. This is art about politics. ... This is a satirical candidacy." That's a pretty strong statement, and if she's right it makes us all look kind of dumb:

We have all been falling for it. We have been treating this like a real campaign. And Republicans have really been treating this like a real campaign—at least as measured by all the money they have been giving him.

True enough, but, she says, the game is over because his act is falling to pieces now that he's been forced to deal with a serious sexual harassment scandal. Those of us who have become paranoid about the number nine will note with great fear that his sexual harassment settlement was dated 9/99. That is crazy, but it gets weirder. He sang "Amazing Grace" while answering questions about the scandal at the National Press Club. And then at another speech, Maddow says, he declared "himself as a performance art project" with this statement: "I'm proud to know the Koch brothers. ... This may be a breaking news announcement for the media. I am the Koch brothers' brother from another brother." Cue Rush Hour 3.

Okay, so is he actually begging us not to take him seriously? Are we being punked? Maddow thinks so, but the only problem here is that she doesn't draw much of distinction between satire/performance art and just plain crazy/delusional people. Sure, something can appear to be satirical, but it isn't unless the person doing it is in on the joke. So is Herman Cain just hilariously incompetent or is he a piece of art designed (by whom, we may never know...) to destroy the GOP from the inside out? You be the judge. But now that you've heard Maddow's case, you can bet it will change the way you look at Herman Cain (If that is even his REAL name!) from now on. At the very least, watching the endless primary season as a piece of performance art might make the whole thing a lot more bearable.