but I really don't think that the Republican party is made up of a primarily ultraconservative right-wing element, any more than the Democrats are all left-wing extremists.
Exactly - most of us are primarily "conservative" when it comes to asserting America's international priorities and getting the government out of private life. We have environmentalists, health care reformers, gays, blacks, Jews, as well as the stereotyped WASP contingent.
Most of us are moderate in terms of reform efforts. We don't want to eliminate welfare, for example, but we would like to check abuses and see that it helps people get back to work, which is what it was intended to be in the first place. Of course, any extremist who opposes the idea of welfare in any context is going to also vote Republican, because we are the closest thing he's got. And he's probably going to make a lot of noise on his one issue, noise that makes the opposition perhaps come to the conclusion that ALL Republicans want to eliminate welfare. Which is nonsense.
The ideology is personal freedom and personal responsibility, which appeals to certain individuals like me.
As for the government legislating morality? No! Social structure can withstand polygamy, can withstand homosexual unions, but it cannot withstand government interference in my personal choices. You might as well set up an established church if that's what you are going to do. And that is something I would fight and kill and die to prevent.