Four weeks from today Republicans will caucus in Iowa. As things stand now, Newt Gingrich is running away with it, and a double digit win on election night may very well be in the cards. If Iowans are determined to ignore the Gingrich track record or buy into his claim to be a changed man, not even high octane conservatives are likely to convince them otherwise.

That said, one GOP state official describes Gingrich as a “fragile frontrunner who’s holding steady. “ He adds:“But his teflon better be pretty thick, because he’s in for one hell of a ride from here on out.”

Ramesh Ponnuru writes today:

This year he flip-flopped three times on the top issue of the day, the House Republican plan to reform Medicare. He’s still undisciplined: He went on a vacation cruise at the start of his campaign. He still has the same old grandiosity: In recent weeks he has compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and said confidently that the nomination was his.

He still has the same need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory. Plenty of politicians competing in Iowa come out for ethanol subsidies; only Gingrich would proclaim that in doing so he was standing up to city slickers in a culture war invented in his own mind. He still has a casual relationship with the truth. In recent weeks he has said that Freddie Mac (FMCC) paid him to condemn its business model, only for reporters and bloggers to find out that he had in fact shilled for the organization in return for about $1.6 million.

He still has the same penchant for sharing whatever revelation has just struck him, as with his recent musings about getting rid of child-labor laws

John Podhoretz also tries to warn his fellow conservatives with a trip down (bad) memory lane. But so far this hasn’t registered with voters at large or in Iowa. They seem blissfully indifferent to the multi-faceted dangers that would go along with a Gingrich candidacy.

But if Gingrich is to be felled, it most likely will be at his own hands, rather than by (negative) character witnesses. He talks with such abandon that it’s not improbable that this will occur.

His interview with Glenn Beck is a case in point. You can read the full interview but it is vintage Gingrich. He adores Teddy Roosevelt. (“I’m a Theodore Roosevelt Republican and I believe government can lean in the regulatory leaning is okay.”) He defends his penchant for ethanol subsidies, denying that this is picking winners and losers:

Well, it depends on what you’re subsidizing. The idea of having economic incentives for manufacturing goes back to Alexander Hamilton’s first report of manufacturing which I believe was 1791. We have always had a bias in favor of investing in the future. We built the transcontinental railroads that way. The Erie Canal was built that way. We’ve always believed that having a strong infrastructure and having a strong energy system are net advantages because they’ve made us richer and more powerful than any country in the world. But what I object to is subsidizing things that don’t work and things that aren’t creating a better future. And the problem with the modern welfare state is it actually encourages people to the wrong behaviors, encourages them not to work, encourages them not to study.

In other words, subsidize only stuff he likes. President Obama couldn’t have said it any better.

Next up is his unintelligible defense of the individual mandate. Beck played back tapes of him hawking the idea in 1994 and attacking Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan as too radical. What follows is Newtonian gobbledygook:

What I was asked was if a program is unpopular, should the Republicans impose it anyway. We can go back and we can listen to exactly what I was asked on that show and what I said I stand by, which is in a free society, you don’t elect officials to impose on you things that you disagree with. We just went through this slide over ObamaCare.

Now, I also, ironically, I would implement the Medicare reforms that Paul Ryan wants, I would implement them next year as an optional choice and I would allow people to have the option to choose premium support and then have freedom to negotiate with their doctor or their hospital in a way that would increase their ability to manage costs without being involved, you know but I wouldn’t impose it on everybody across the board. I think that’s a very large scale experiment. But I think you could migrate people toward it. I’m proposing the same thing on Social Security. I think young people ought to have the right to choose a personal Social Security insurance savings account plan and the Social Security actuary estimates that 95% of young people would pick a personal Social Security savings account over the current system but they would do so voluntarily because we would empower them to make a choice. We wouldn’t impose it on them. That’s a question of how do you think you can get this country to move more rapidly toward reform, and I think you can get it to move toward reform faster.

I have no idea what he’s talking about or why it took him until his presidential election run to realize the individual mandate was a bad thing.

Then he’s back to defending the Democrats’ “green” agenda. Beck played a clip of him telling Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.):

GINGRICH: I think there has to be a, if you will, a green conservatism. There has to be a willingness to stand up and say, all right, here’s the right way to solve these as seen by our values system. And now to have a dialogue about what’s the most effective way to solve it. First of all, I think if you have the right level of tax credit, it isn’t just exactly voluntary. My guess is there’s a dollar number at which you would have every utility in the country agree they are all going to build private and sequestering power points. So I think this is a definable alternative.

KERRY: This is a huge transition. You actually want the government to do it. I want the private sector to do it.

GINGRICH: No, no, no. I want the government to pay for it.

KERRY: You want the governor to pay for it with a big tax credit.

Gingrich’s response was so disjointed you’ll just have to read it yourself.

Compared to this guy, Mitt Romney is Barry Goldwater.

But if Iowa voters are looking for someone more personally and politically stable there are several choices in the race. Rick Santorum’s struggle for exposure may be paying off; Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican e-mails me: “The endorsement of Santorum by Pastor Cary Gordon from Sioux City is significant. He is the state’s most outspoken pastor, and should be a big help to Santorum in NW Iowa. Santorum is also gaining steam at his events. Big crowds in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, and Orange City in the last couple of days. Looks like he’s finally gaining some momentum, at least on the ground.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), as Byron York reports, is getting points for sheer moxie. York observes that “many Republican voters are recognizing Bachmann’s sheer determination and tenacity. They’ve seen her take a lot of hits and keep going. They’ve seen her make mistakes and correct them. And as conservatives, especially social conservatives, look for a candidate to support against Romney, some are giving Bachmann a second look.”

In the next four weeks Gingrich and his opponents will fight over who is the most electable conservative. It is false to pose to them that this is a choice between Gingrich or Romney. In fact for conservatives who really want to stand up proudly in front of their neighbors behind consistent conservatives, there are a raft of candidates on the ballot. If they choose one, it would be a send a message to Republicans around the country: The GOP can do better.