01:48 - Source: CNN
Trump to Bush: Lead by 'speaking English'

Story highlights

Bush pledged not to get personal but vowed to throw counter punches if Trump goes for the jugular: his family

"I'm sure as hell -- when he attacks me personally or disparages my family -- you're damn right I'm going to fight back," Bush said

Laconia, New Hampshire CNN —  

A fiery Jeb Bush ramped up his rhetoric against presidential rival Donald Trump Thursday night in yet another show of force as the former Florida governor changes tactics to go after the Republican front-runner.

Taking questions from voters at a Veterans of Foreign Wars facility here, Bush pledged not to get personal but vowed to throw counterpunches if Trump goes for the jugular: his family.

“I’m going to push back when he says things that are ugly, that I think will damage our brand, damage our ability to be successful,” the former Florida governor said. “I’m sure as hell – when he attacks me personally or disparages my family – you’re damn right I’m going to fight back.”

His comments come after Trump criticized Bush on Wednesday for speaking Spanish too often on the campaign trail. Bush, whose wife is from Mexico and who lives in the Miami area, spent a large part of Thursday responding to Trump’s swipe, calling it “bizarre” and illogical.

Bush said that perhaps what was more offensive “was the notion that somehow I went down to the border and spoke Mexican.”

“Those are dog whistle terms,” Bush continued. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Bush was referring to a tweet that Trump retweeted last week: “Jeb Bush is crazy, who cares that he speaks Mexican, this is America, English!!”

During his stump speech, Bush got big applause and cheers from the audience when he alluded to Trump’s complaints about Bush’s bilingual abilities.

“My belief is that most people are conservative, they just haven’t been asked yet,” he said, before adding with a heavy dose of sarcasm: “If you have that attitude, then you go campaign in the Latino communities – yeah, maybe a little in Spanish. I apologize.”

Taking questions from reporters after the event, Bush said his more aggressive tone is simply him “responding to the personal diatribe that has come (his) way.”

Bush, who’s dubbed himself the “joyful tortoise” in the race, maintained that he can still keep up his positive style.

“I tell you what, man, I’m not going to sit back and have people call me things I’m not or misrepresent my views,” he said. “You can be joyful and be tough. And that’s what I am.”

Bush also knocked Trump over his interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday about foreign policy, when Trump accused Hewitt of asking “gotcha questions.”

“You got to know who the players are,” Bush said. “I’m sure he’ll bone up on this now.”

At one point a reporter interjected with a “non-Trump question.”

“Hey! Whoop-dee-doo!” Bush responded.

Pressed on his thoughts about the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Bush reiterated his position that there should be room in the country for people who want to object to same-sex marriage but without discriminating against same-sex couples.

“She is sworn to uphold the law, and it seems to me that there ought to be common ground. There ought to be big enough space for her to act on her conscience, and now that the law is the law of the land, for a gay couple to be married in whatever jurisdiction that is.”

Bush, who’s been accused by Trump of having “low energy,” certainly brought out the fuel Thursday night and had fun bantering with the audience on a range of things, from his weight loss to Tom Brady.

Talking about all the people he’s been meeting on the campaign trail, Bush, who’s lost 40 pounds in the past year, quipped that he’s “working (his) tail off.”

“You’ve noticed it’s a little smaller than it was?” he asked, turning around and pointing down at his backside.