Word that the American Crossroads group, founded by Karl Rove and other Republican bigwigs, is spinning off a new PAC to help back electable Republicans in House and Senate races has set off a tantrum among right-wing backers of many tea-party candidates. They’ve accused the group of “insiders” (aren’t critics such as Club for Growth also insiders?) of wanting to elect a bunch of mushy candidates. That they would react so vehemently to the announcement that some American Crossroads donors actually want to back winners is ironic, both because the critics declared American Crossroads irrelevant after 2012 and because they chided American Crossroads for backing so many losing candidates.

Mitch McConnell Sen. Mitch McConnell would be majority leader if 6 or 7 races in 2010 and 2012 hadn’t been GOP disasters. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Are these critics actually in favor of electing right-wing, undisciplined candidates who will blow up in the general election? It sure seems like it. (Interesting that they assume a “quality” candidate will not be as ideologically extreme as their choices.)

I spoke to American Crossroads adviser Jonathan Collegio by phone today. He told me, “One of the big takeaways in 2012 and 2010 was that we’ve lost perhaps 6 or 7 races — not due to the message but due to the quality of the candidate. That is the difference [needed for] a majority in the Senate and blocking the last tax increase.” He emphasized that the goal of the new PAC, the Conservative Victory Project, is not to elect a bunch of squishy RINOs. “The aim of the group is to institutionalize the Buckley rule — back the most conservative candidate who is electable. We want to elect conservatives across the board,” he said.

American Crossroads certainly has reason to recalibrate its donors’ giving. It spent more than any other group, some $30 million, in backing tea-party-supported candidates in the general election. It was these candidates (e.g. Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock) who blew themselves up. You can understand why it was time for a change in thinking. Collegio told me, “We don’t want to send good money after bad candidates.”

That means becoming active in House and Senate primary races. The Conservative Victory Project will soon announce personnel to run the operation, which, if past performance is any indication, is likely to raise tens of millions of dollars. It will spend time carefully vetting candidates’ records and statements. (After the 2012 losses, GOP insiders conceded there had been plenty of warning signs that Mourdock and Akin were problem candidates.) Organizers also plan on doing some sophisticated analysis to see what factors are associated with strong candidates. (For example, a candidate without the ability to raise a lot of money locally is a flashing red light.)

Ironically, some of the groups now hollering at Crossroads didn’t carry the load in the 2012 general election. Crossroads, however, wound up spending $6 million on Mourdock, in essence wasting its donors’ money because Mourdock won the primary.

Both “old” Crossroads and the new Conservative Victory Project will fund GOP primary winners in the general election. But it may be that, if another Mourdock makes it through the primary, these groups will simply choose to spend their money elsewhere. Why should they encourage rotten candidates and waste their donors’ contributions?

The frantic reaction of the tea party and special-interest hardliners is telling. They have a healthy market in backing extreme candidates and trying to demonize incumbents with less than pure records. If now quality and winning are going to be at issue (and their donors might want to know if their money is being wasted), where does it leave them? Howling. As they are doing now.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.