HICKORY, N.C. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump struck a dismissive tone Monday amid harsh scrutiny over the sometimes-violent clashes seen at his campaign rallies, insisting during an event here that violence has not been an issue.

“The press is now going, they're saying, 'Oh but there's such violence.' No violence. You know how many people have been hurt at our rallies? I think, like, basically none except maybe somebody got hit once," Trump said at Lenoir-Rhyne University after several protesters were escorted out during the first of three interruptions.

“It’s a love fest. These are love fests,” Trump added later. “And every once in a while … somebody will stand up and they’ll say something.… It’s a little disruption, but there’s no violence. There’s none whatsoever.”

Speaking to reporters Monday, White House press secretary said there was no question that Trump bears some of the responsibility for the violence that has marred his rallies.

“There’s no denying one of the reasons there’s so much energy at these events is that you have an aspiring political leader inflaming tensions and appealing to people’s darker impulses,” he said.

Earnest said Trump was alone among GOP candidates in pursuing “a strategy to sow political divisions for their own benefit.”

It is clear what Trump “is up to,” Earnest said. “But it’s not clear at all what the rest of the Republican Party is up to.” He noted that many GOP politicians “wring their hands” about his rhetoric and tactics, “but then pledge fealty to his campaign in the hopes that he will” win the White House.

“This is a significant, if not existential, question for leaders in the Republican Party to answer,” Earnest said.

In Fayetteville, N.C., on Wednesday, a protester who was being escorted out of a campaign rally was sucker punched by a Trump supporter. In St. Louis on Friday, Trump was interrupted eight times inside the Peabody Opera House as hundreds quarreled outside, leading to 32 arrests and several injuries. In Chicago later that day, brawls broke out after the Trump campaign canceled a rally there over concerns about security.

Trump's security team has remained on alert since Saturday, when a man charged toward Trump in Dayton as he stood speaking on a dais. He man was able to jump over a metal guard rail before he was subdued by security. A team of Secret Service agents stood at attention at the foot of the stage where Trump spoke Monday, adding an extra layer of security between Trump and the metal barricades.

Trump was interrupted by protesters just three times Monday, a significantly smaller protester presence than at events in recent days. Trump insisted that he has been treated with a double standard by media outlets, which he says report on incidents of protesters at his events but do not cover protests at other rallies. But the scale and frequency of the protests at Trump’s events undeniably outstrip those of other candidates’ events, culminating in the violent clashes in Chicago last week.

Trump’s critics say he is partially responsible for the violence at the campaign events because of the rhetoric he has used on the stage. He has frequently spoken about the “good old days” when, according to him, protesters were beaten, and he has suggested on several occasions that he will cover the legal bills of supporters who run into trouble with police for attacking demonstrators.

Trump and his supporters, however, blame the protesters and accuse them of instigating the violence in an attempt to smear the real estate mogul. Trump also has pointed the finger at Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who he says are trying to undermine the populist fervor around his candidacy.

"The Democrats are seeing what's happening, and they're trying to disrupt what's happening. But it's not a big deal. They stand up, they shout for a couple of seconds and get whisked out. Not a big deal. It's not a big deal," Trump said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined Trump onstage Monday, acting as a moderator throughout the fireside-chat-style event. Trump spoke at length about strengthening American trade policy and improving services for veterans, remaining light on policy specifics but drawing cheers from the crowd.

Eilperin reported from Washington.