Stump speeches by GOP presidential candidates reveal that they're already planning for a race against Hillary Clinton in the general election. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump said Thursday that he’d like to run against Bernie Sanders in the general election. Not that either candidate is guaranteed to make it that far, of course.

Trump stands for almost everything Sanders is against – namely, wealth, big business, boardrooms and capitalism. And while Sanders might be seen as an easier target than Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, it’s not really the match-up Trump is looking to.

“But actually, I have my mind set on Hillary,” Trump added. While his heart longs for a Sanders match-up, his head tells him that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

Clinton has been the favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination since long before she even got into the race. And while many people in both parties are no doubt surprised by the strength of the challenge to her from Bernie Sanders, the betting remains that whoever emerges from the Republican scrum will have to face her.

So, with Iowa and New Hampshire looming and voters starting to get serious about making a selection, all the Republican candidates are increasingly competing to convince their own primary electorates that they are better equipped than their rivals to take on Clinton and everything she stands for.

And by better equipped, they tend to mean tougher and more eager. Chris Christie told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham this week that, if Marco Rubio is the nominee, Clinton would “pat him on the head, and then cut his heart out.”

Rubio himself said he “can’t wait” to run against Clinton.

Of course, none of them get to choose. But one of them stands a very good chance of getting his wish.