Onetime presidential candidate Mitt Romney has practically made a career of denying a 2016 candidacy on cable news networks.
"I'm not running," the former Massachusetts governor said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last May. "I'm not running, I'm not planning on running and I've got nothing new on that story," he reiterated in an interview with Bloomberg News.
But Romney's "I'm not running" narrative hasn't been consistent. In August, Romney told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that though he still did not see himself running in 2016, "circumstances can change" — an offhanded statement that led to a whirlwind of speculation over what seemed to be a softening stance.
In the aftermath of his comments to Hewitt, Romney remained largely focused on supporting fellow Republicans, such as Utah's Mia Love, during the midterm elections.
But recent statements by political insiders, and pressures from major political donors, have once again aroused speculation that the 2012 runner-up is ready for another stab at the presidency.
A slew of unnamed insiders have come forward in the wake of a meeting Romney held with Wall Street donors, claiming they are convinced that despite previous statements, Romney is gearing up for 2016. "He sees himself as the leader of the establishment Republican Party," Politico's Ben White said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
According to White, Romney remains unimpressed with the current roster of possible 2016 nominees for the GOP, including Jeb Bush — which contradicts earlier reports that indicated Romney would only run if Bush abstained.
A recent Business Insider report corroborates the narrative that Romney is courting former donors in an effort to build up support for 2016. According to BI, Romney was seen walking and talking with New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who donated $2,500 to the Romney 2012 campaign, according to an earlier report by BI.
Romney's efforts to cozy up with Wall Street donors come as pressure mounts on the GOP to decide on a candidate early enough to mount a strong campaign against the presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"For the first time in decades, the Republican Party is facing a wide-open primary with up to a dozen serious candidates representing virtually every branch of the party," The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore wrote Monday. "Republican leaders, hoping to minimize damage to their eventual standard-bearer, have already sought to compress the formal primary season and reduce the number of candidate debates."
According to Confessore, many donors who are pushing for a moderate to take center stage are willing to support either Jeb Bush or Chris Christie but want to wait until Romney is officially out of the game before committing to anyone else. "Many donors said they believed that Mr. Romney was likely to wait until late summer to decide whether to enter the race," he reported, which leaves plenty of time for other front-runner candidates to preemptively undermine any possible Romney bid by jumping in first.
Romney has gained major attention from donors for performing well against other Republicans in national polls. Last November, Quinnipiac University found that 44-42 percent of Republicans favor Mitt Romney over all the other noteworthy 2016 potentials, including Christie, Bush and Romney's former running mate Paul Ryan.
But such polling also points to possible problems with a Romney candidacy. While many pundits, including Politico's White, believe Romney's polls indicate his strong name recognition — typically a positive trait for any political candidate — a new poll by Bloomberg indicates that Romney's strong favorability among Republicans still can't beat Clinton's overall approval rating, which currently rests at 52 percent.
The same poll indicates that while Romney may have the highest favorability rating among GOP candidates (43 percent) he also has the highest unfavorabilty rating of any potential candidate (44 percent), Democrat or Republican.
In other words, as the pressure heats up for a GOP contender to take on (what's assumed to be) Hillary Clinton's juggernaut campaign machine in 2016, the field remains wide open.