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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year Despite amnesty, DACA bill favors American wage-earners MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle With religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again This week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations 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.”