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 PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Republicans wrestle over removing Trump MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress 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.”