New Jersey Governor Chris Christie brushed off his widespread characterization as an overly brash “hot head” during an appearance Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, insisting that his aggressive style is backed by an approach to governance that works for his home state.

“Here are some of the words used to describe you: explosive; short-tempered; hot head; impatient; and that’s just what your friends are saying,” prodded conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, who led a question-and-answer session with the potential presidential candidate.

“Here’s the word they miss: Passionate,” Christie fired back. “I’m the son of a Sicilian mother and an Irish father, which means in my household I had to learn about dispute resolution really early.”

When Ingraham asked about an incident in which he told a reporter to “sit down and shut up,” the governor had a ready response: “Yeah well, sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up.”

The packed ballroom where the session was held erupted with applause.

Christie leaned heavily on his record as governor of New Jersey throughout the speech, citing his efforts to get the state’s ailing pensions system back on track. But he also stressed that he stands by his conservative principles even when faced with negative press.

“Listen, I wake up every morning with a Democratic legislature. So I wake up every morning not getting everything I want. But what you need to do is stand firmly,” he said, leaning in and waving his hands as he spoke. “When you say, ‘I’m not going to sign a tax increase under circumstances,’ … just because they write bad things about you doesn’t change your mind.”

If he ultimately decides to run for president, Christie will likely point to his conservative leadership — not to mention electability in a blue state —  as a rationale for his White House bid. First, however, Christie will have to fight his way to the front of a crowded field of potential GOP presidential candidates while stopping a bleed of establishment defections to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“If what happens is that the elites in Washington who make backroom deals deciding who the president is going to be, then [Bush] is the frontrunner. If the people of the United States decide to pick the President of the United States…[then] I’ll do okay if I run.”