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 PaulPaul: Pence should oversee Senate ObamaCare repeal votes Healthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth GOP rep: Trump could be 'one-term president' if healthcare bill passes MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease GOP senators offer bill to require spending cuts with debt-limit hikes Healthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonLawmakers share photos of their dogs in honor of National Puppy Day GOP targets Baldwin over Wisconsin VA scandal The Hill's Whip List: 34 GOP 'no' votes on ObamaCare repeal plan 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.”