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In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle ruins his relationship with the woman he likes. Then, he tries to get her back, fails, starts becoming angry, fantasizing with killing people. Part of his hatred is against the scum of society (pimps, whores, druggies, etc, which we see from his conversation with the Senator), but another is against the Senator.

Why does he try to assassinate him?

In Quora, they talk about

  • Political reasons - right wing VS left wing, but Travis doesn't know much about politics and does not seem racist, so why would this matter to him? Also, their explanation is mostly out-of-universe:

    Travis Bickle's attempted assassination of Senator Palantine is like a mirror image of Bremer's assassination attempt against Wallace

  • Jealousy - Travis would be a lot more jealous of her friend Tom, whom he already said he disliked, than the Senator which does not seem to have any direct contact with her, as far as Travis knows

    Travis may perceive Palantine as a sexual rival to him for the affections of Betsy

  • Director ambiguity - again, an out-of-universe explanation

    Martin Scorsese has a tendency to make movies with ambiguous endings that show a great deal of ambivalence about fame

What are the in-universe reasons for Travis to try to assassinate the Senator?

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With his professed disillusionment with Betsy and his disappointment that she will neither listen nor attempt to understand him, he sees her as cold and typical of the societal problem in New York rather than a part of the solution. Betsy is integrally involved in the Palantine political machine. With Bickle's personal hope dashed by what he sees as her betrayal of his high opinion of her, the political naivety of his hope that Palantine will make a difference and clean up New York is shattered by association.

His attempt to assassinate Palantine signals his rejection of a system he sees as hypocritical, self-serving and uncaring. From that point onwards, Bickle (with his disturbed mental state now at the tipping point) takes the law and the moral authority that goes with the law into his own hands.

What is, perhaps, more disturbing than Bickle's temporary vigilante insanity, is the fact that he does make a difference. Where society (including society's faith in crusading politicians like Palantine) fails to help Iris, Bickle succeeds. In this sense, the film stands as a warning.

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