Both ministers and backbenchers have told the ABC they believe Malcolm Turnbull now has the numbers to win a challenge and should use them, though the Communications Minister is not agitating for a spill.
But other MPs are playing down the tension, saying the Prime Minister has “strong” support.
Mr Turnbull deflected questions of another potential spill on Thursday, saying only: “I’ll leave you guys to speculate about all that stuff.”
Mr Abbott, who was in central Queensland inspecting cyclone damage, was asked whether he had any concerns that Mr Turnbull was being urged to run against him.
“We’re here to look at the cyclone damage today, OK,” he replied.
Mr Abbott survived a move on his leadership earlier this month, when a motion to spill the position failed 39 votes to 61.
After that party room meeting, the Prime Minister declared that “good government starts today” and promised to consult his colleagues more.
However, there is now open despair in Coalition ranks, even among those who supported the Prime Minister in the leadership spill.
Liberals talk of little else and worry that there will be permanent brand damage if Mr Abbott stays.
Backbenchers do not want to lead the charge this time, and instead want ministers to push for a change at the top.
Some argue that it should be resolved quickly to give a new leader the opportunity to re-frame this year’s budget, which is just 12 weeks away.
There is also the view that NSW Premier Mike Baird should be given clean air to fight the state election next month.
The leadership talk has also been fuelled by Mr Abbott’s criticism of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, with some MPs uncomfortable with the way she was treated.
This week in the party room Mr Abbott was asked about his tactics and whether he could have, for example, highlighted the positives of what the Government had done to get children out of detention.
Some MPs described the Prime Minister’s response to their queries as a slap down and way too harsh, feeding anxiety about his leadership.
Mr Turnbull distanced himself from Mr Abbott’s remarks, describing Ms Triggs as “distinguished” and saying the criticism of her “misses the point”.
‘Our party room is as placid as a lake by moonlight’