Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) defended the Tea Party in an interview published Thursday, claiming it is often misunderstood as a "right wing" of the GOP.

"What is the most misunderstood fact about the Tea Party, in your opinion?" the Christian Post asked DeMint. 

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"That it is a right wing, manufactured by the Republican Party," he responded. "The Tea Party doesn’t like politicians. They don’t like Republicans or Democrats. These are people who are independent."

Tea Party members "are people of all walks of life and they are the best behaved group I’ve ever been in," added DeMint. 

DeMint has emerged this year as a de facto leader in the Senate of freshman GOP senators with Tea Party ties, including Rand PaulRand PaulThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Rand Paul: Trump 'open to making bill better' Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess Why liberals should support Trump — not Obama — on Cuba policy The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation MORE (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mike LeeMike LeeThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess Club for Growth opposes Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess Club for Growth opposes Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (Wis.).

The South Carolina lawmaker has been using his heightened profile to try and impact the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. 

He is asking Republicans to sign his "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge, which promises to oppose any raising of the debt ceiling until there are deficit cuts, enforceable limits on federal spending and congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment.

A number of GOP presidential candidates have signed the pledge, including Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. 

DeMint says the pledge is a litmus test for who he'll support in 2012. He has already ruled out backing former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who declined to sign it.  

“I won’t support any candidate who does not support balancing the budget,” DeMint said of Huntsman. “So for me, he’s out.”