First, the Rice nomination would likely land right in the middle of the final fiscal cliff negotiations and could poison any good will built up with congressional Republicans. It would also make clear to Republicans that Obama the deal-cutter is gone, upping the ante even more on the fiscal cliff talks. Even if Obama does wait until early 2013 to pick a nominee, he would have to massage it around his inauguration in late January and the coming debt ceiling fight scheduled for late February. Either way, it wouldn’t be easy.

Second, it would put Senate Democrats out on a limb they have made abundantly clear they don’t want to be on. That would be a clear signal to his party that Obama is, first and foremost, all about Obama — something congressional Democrats have long suspected. If Obama does go forward with Rice, rallying his party to some of his preferred second-term initiatives could get very complicated. In short: The reservoir of good will would be drained very quickly.

Then there is the path of least resistance. In that scenario, Obama goes with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State and finds another, less controversial post for Rice.