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 PaulConquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rand Paul rejects label of 'Trump's most loyal stooge' GOP healthcare plans push health savings account expansion MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioAt CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rubio brushes off demonstrator asking about town halls MORE (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mike LeeMike LeeLessons from the godfather of regulatory budgeting Congress must reform civil asset forfeiture laws A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonA guide to the committees: Senate Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs Dems ask for hearings on Russian attempts to attack election infrastructure 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.”