cpac 2015 donald trump
Washington CNN  — 

Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee.

The announcement comes weeks after Trump hired political operatives in key early primary states and marks the most concrete step yet that Trump in seriously considering a presidential run, something he’s hinted at doing for years.

Trump has repeatedly flirted with the idea of running for president, most recently in the leadup to the 2012 election when he said he was seriously considering jumping into the Republican fray. Trump previously launched an exploratory committee in 1999 as he considered running for president then.

After garnering media attention and leading in some early polls, Trump ultimately backed out and endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for president.

That’s a decision Trump has appeared to regret recently, saying Romney “choked” in 2012. Trump has also knocked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment frontrunner: “The last thing we need is another Bush,” he said in Iowa earlier this year.

Despite naysayers who point out that Trump perpetually teases at running for president for self promoting purposes, the mogul has said he talked with several potential contenders for the Republican presidential nomination – would-be foes for a man who says he’s more serious than ever about a presidential run.

And he also announced that his NBC “Celebrity Apprentice” show has been renewed for a 15th season. He and his aides later explained that while NBC has offered to renew the reality TV show, he has not signed any papers and could back out.

“They want to renew it and I told them I have to put it on hold because I’m doing something that’s far more important,” Trump told CNN in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference late last month – just over a week after he promoted the show’s renewal on Twitter.

He said NBC had not given him a deadline to make up his mind.

Trump also drew skeptical glances from conservatives who flocked to CPAC as he once again raised the issue of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, again questioning its authenticity.

And on his meetings and discussions with likely 2016 Republican candidates, like Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul and others, Trump said: “I have a lot of respect for them and they have respect for me. They called me, they wanted to meet with me and they came up to my office and what am I going to do, say no?”

Trump will head Thursday to New Hampshire, a crucial early primary state, to meet with local veterans and business owners.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the Conservative Political Action Conference.