He even snagged the role of commander-in-chief in "Last Best Chance," a TV movie about terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons.
Now some are hoping he'll take on that job — for real. CBS Evening News Saturday anchor Thalia Assuras reports.
"He exudes strength and trust. And I think maybe as importantly, he is a very simple, straightforward communicator," says Republican Rep. Zach Wamp, a fellow Tennessean who is leading the "Draft Thompson" team. He has labeled the movement the "Fred Phenomenon."
"I think a lot of people are kinda tired of these people crawling all over each other to become president. 'Oh I wanna be president.' He's laid back and he's done his job and now people are pursing him to be president," says Wamp.
The push stems from dissatisfaction. A recent CBS News poll found 61 percent of Republicans are not satisfied with those now in the running. Senator McCain's support of the president on Iraq is proving to be an albatross. Rudy Giuliani — who yesterday announced his support for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights — is challenging the conservative base. And Mitt Romney is battling concerns over his Mormon religion.
Thompson, who left the senate in 2002, stands behind the president on the war. He's against gun control and abortion rights. Supporters believe that conservative profile combined with Thompson's star power could lift him and the party into the winner's circle.
"There's no question that there is an opening for a traditional establishment conservative candidate," says Dan Schnur, a professor of political science at University of California, Berkeley. "Because at least in the eyes of the party's base, none of the current tier of candidates necessarily fits that bill."
But if Thompson jumped in, would it really shake up the race? A recent speech, scrutinized for clues into his thinking, got mixed reviews — on style. One critic called his delivery "sedate."
But in an April poll, Republican primary voters put Thompson in a second-place tie with Sen. John McCain at 14 percent, behind former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani who received 30 percent.
"If Fred Thompson gets in this race he's going to make a big splash right away," said Schnur. "That's the easy part. The challenging part is sustaining it."
Zach Wamp doesn't have any doubts.
"Fred Thompson has the whole package. And when he gets in this race, you will see him rise straight to the top," said Wamp.
Notice that the congressman said when Thompson gets into the race, not if. Wamp said that the senator will make his decision next month.